Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Fatal Blow

Rinku Basu

Comparison between Shakespeare and Mr. Hardy’s  concept of character and Fate –The role of fate in the  major novels of Mr. Hardy-His fatalism or determinism- His concept of the ‘Immanent Will’ –The different forms  of fate in his novels-The role of destiny as a reflector of  Mr. Hardy’s pessimism. “We are all victims, Anselmo. Our destinies are decided by a cosmic roll of dice, the whims of the stars, the vagrant breezes of fortune that blow from the windmills of the Gods.”1

Mr. Hardy strongly believed in the above mentioned thought. For him, man was just a puppet in the hands of the all powerful ‘Immanent Will’. Try as he might he could not escape its steel grip and at last clutched in its jaws, he was crushed to pieces. This belief was the root of his plant of pessimism. Instead of inclining towards the sun, it bent towards darkness and sorrow.  As Lord David Cecil Opines – “A struggle between man on the one hand and the other, an omnipotent and indifferent Fate that is Hardy’s interpretation of the human situation”.2  Similarly H.C. Duffin’s comments are also note worthy – he Irony of fate……..most people are aware of the facts,  but dismiss them as ‘chance’ events, without significance : at most such happenings are held to resemble, ornamental studs on the surface of a box, to Hardy they are nails that hold the box together.”3
        Unlike Aristotle or the classical dramatists, he did not believe in the ‘tragic flaw or ‘Harmatia’. According to him, this was not the reason behind a tragedy.
The actual reason was destiny or adverse circumstance that was beyond the control of man. An unseen force was always working to disappoint the best efforts of human beings. In this way, we can contrast him with the great dramatist William Shakespeare.
            Where Shakespeare strongly believed that ‘Character was destiny’ it was quite the opposite for Mr. Hardy. The Plays of this master of drama, of whom noted poet and critic Matthew Arnold says “others abide our question, thou art free”4, reveal this philosophy of his. A brief analysis of his dramas illumines the fact that the ‘tragic flaw’ in ‘Othello’ was a jealous mind, trapped in a body suffering from insecurity and inferiority complex. In ‘Hamlet’ it was too much of introspection and too less of action on the part of the Prince of Denmark. In ‘Macbeth’ it was the ‘tragedy of ambition’. In ‘King Lear ’it was arrogance and rashness that brought about the misery and fall from grace of the old king. As Cassius tells Brutus -          “Men at some times are masters of their fates; the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”5
Thus Shakespeare highlights the mastery of character over destiny, of man over his fate. That is why Cassius remarks that the fault is ‘not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’. But the line ‘Men at sometimes are masters of their fates, inevitably highlights the omnipotent role of fate in man’s life. For ‘men’ only at times ‘are masters of their fates’, at all other times, Fate rules over man.
However, on closer analysis, the truth dawns on us that basically it was not only the ‘tragic flaw’ that led to the tragedy but also conniving, deceitful people and adverse circumstances. Destiny however played its role in leading the hero and major characters towards the long winding path of gloom, suffering and destruction.
Othello was as much blinded by the glare of green-eyed jealousy as by his passionate love for the fair Desdemona. These combine with vagaries of fortune to bring about his ruin. Again it was a quirk of fate that Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, whom he disliked profusely, proved not only to be the usurper of the throne and his mother but also the killer of his father. Again Ophelia, who is his lady love, happens to be the daughter of Polonius-his uncle’s trusted confidant. Their enmity ultimately kills the innocent love of Hamlet-the Prince of Denmark.  Similarly in ‘King Lear’ the forces of Nature take the form of his daughters and sons-in-law and wreak havoc on him. They finally culminate on the stormy night which proves fateful for the broken aged and heart-broken king. However the most significant role of destiny in bringing about a tragic end can be seen in ‘Macbeth’. The witches themselves are representatives of the evil forces of Nature as Lady Macbeth ejaculates-
“Come you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts unsex me here,
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty”
And again- “Come to my woman’s breast
And take my milk for gall, You murd’ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances, You wait on nature’s mischief.”6
For these Forces- “Fair is foul and Foul is fair.
Like the ‘Prince of Drama’, Mr. Hardy also gave importance even though slightly to the role of character in bringing about the downfall of man. The best example of this can be seen in “The Mayor of Casterbridge”. Michael Henchard in an inebriated state auctions off his wife and thus unravels a tale of woe and misery. Later it is egotism and selfishness that smashes him to the rocks from the majestic loftiness of the hills. True that the invisible hands of  omnipotent fate defeats him at every crossway of life but his own whimsical and ego-centric nature alienates him from his friends and well wishers and he himself orchestrates his pitiful end. The sub-title of the novel ‘the story of a man of character’ is yet another example of this theory of ours. Similarly Bathsheba’s callowness and her lack of expertise in judging character leads to her grief in ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. The false pride of Grace and her father ruined not only her life but also that of Giles in ‘The Woodlanders’. The lecherous nature of Alex and excessively ‘without backbone’ character of Angel Clare led to the tragedy of Tess in ‘Tess of the D’urbervilles’.
Eustactia’s over-ambitiousness and Clym’s inability to understand her combined with his lack of ambition brought about their suffering in ‘The Return of the Native’. The unconventional nature of Sue Bridehead and the adult attitude of Father-Time spearhead their journey to the land of gloom in ‘Jude the Obscure’.

In short Hardy’s characters had all the ingredients that made for a grand show of pathos and tragedy.
Eminent critic Roy Morrell moving a step ahead was of the view that Mr. Hardy’s characters had the requisite potential to launch a battle against their sinister fate. They are people who have characters which can rule over destiny. As he says- “In Hardy’s world, in short, man sometimes can and should strive against the natural flow of things; there is margin for choice and action and intelligent intervention, a chance to ‘bend a digit the poise of forces, and a fair desire fulfill’ (pp480). The chance to act effectively may or may not come often, but it comes.”7
However there is a basic difference between Shakespeare’s and Hardy’s concept of ‘character’ and ‘destiny’. Prof. J. Mishra has brought out this difference remarkably- “The difference between Shakespeare’s use of this factor and Hardy’s lies in that, Hardy makes us feel that these traits are inherited from one’s ancestors or represent some primitive urges and passions in man which he keeps on repressing and inhibiting and which conflict with the blind forces of Fate or Chance (including society and environment) - over all of which he has no control. This is the source of terror in his novels, or of pessimism in his view of life.”8 Therefore in other words we can say that tragedy occurs due to the ravages of a hostile force on the ‘tragic flaw’ of a character or characters. This force or evil power was called as ‘Immanent Will’ by Mr. Hardy. Consequently, a study of the pessimistic temperament in the novels of Hardy can never be complete, without discussing the role of this power of fate or destiny in his works.
Man becomes a puppet in the hands of ‘chance’ or ‘destiny’ or ‘Immanent Will’. In Hardy’s scheme of the world, there is no space for the Christian God, benevolent and sympathetic by nature. Rather, God has been substituted by the Immanent Will, which is mainly unkind and purposeless. Consequently man is tossed upon the stormy currents of life. There is hardly any relief to him.”9 The Victorians were shocked and numbed, when Charles Darwin propagated his scientific theories. The world had suddenly become ‘Godless’ and the very axis, on which the Earth rotated, had shattered. Naturally, every value, every principle that the Victorians held dear were smashed to smithereens and nothing but despair and disillusionment ruled the air. Lucifer was having his last laugh and man had become a mere tool in the hands of a mechanical giant. Power was no longer vested in the smiling innocent Jesus who had sacrificed his life for the sake of humanity, to purge mankind of its sacrilegious and evil deeds. This belief changed the life and thoughts of the Victorians forever. There was no place in this world for the tame and the meek, as only the fittest could survive. This knowledge broke them further. Their faith in God or a benevolent force was shaken to the roots. The throne of a kind Heavenly Father had suddenly been taken over by a hostile and blind forceless Turner of the wheel Mr. Hardy chose to call it the ‘Immanent Will’. “Hardy defines the Immanent Will in ‘The Dynasts (Part I)’ as ‘this viewless, voiceless Turner of the wheel.’ This ‘Will’ is the first mover in the sense that it causes both the living and the lifeless to move according to its will. So, Hardy calls it the prime mover of the gear as a puppet watches him who pulls the strings.’ Since the Immanent Will has no consciousness, it is unable to judge the right and the wrong, the good and the evil. It works unwillingly like a potter working things in a state of eternal flux without being motivated by instincts of love, goodness or kindness. In ‘The Dynasts’, Hardy speaks of it, thus the through the Chorus:
‘Are then Love and Light Its aim-
Good Its glory, bad its blame?
Nay; to alter evermore
Things from what they were before.’
The Immanent will have neither love nor hatred, nor goodness, nor kindness, as it is an unconscious force, being amoral at best. Hardy tries further to explore the real nature of this blind will, and asks persistently:
O Loveless, hateless? Past the sense,
Of kindly eyed benevolence
To what tune danceth this Immanence?10
It is indeed tempting to quote J.T. Laird in this context- “This Immanent Will has no benevolent feeling for mankind and it is only to the credit of human being that they struggle on in the face of cosmic indifference that lack of sympathy displayed by the Universal Will towards petty individual wills.”11
The faith of Mr. Hardy, in this uncaring and mighty power added to his pessimistic temperament and tragic inclination. As realized by H.C. Duffin - “In the microcosm of Hardy’s novels there is unquestionably a power-conscious or unconscious, personal or impersonal- that controls, influences at least hampers and hinders the doings of man. The conception is so universally and consistently present that it is difficult not to see in it a main strain of Hardy’s philosophy.”12
A careful inspection of the prominent novels of Mr. Hardy reveals his love for chance, ill-luck and misfortune. His faith in the Immanent Will and his excessive use of it in his novels give us reason enough to adorn him with the title of a pessimist. Like a skilled weaver he wove the lives of his characters with the fabric of his fatalism and ensured that the threads of their existence were steeped in the colours of gloom and anguish.
However in the novels of Mr. Hardy, Fate has many guises, many manifestations. It may take the shape of chance, co-incidence, Nature or even of characters who are themselves puppets in the hands of destiny Donald Farfrae, Fitzpiers, Eustacia etc. are illustrations of this cadre of hapless creatures. But Lord David Cecil has given Fate one more abode- “Chiefly, however the forces of Fate in Hardy’s novels incarnate themselves in two guises- as chance, and as love of these, chance is the most typical.”13 Therefore Lord Cecil has embodied- Fate in the form of love also- love of Giles for Grace, of Marty South for Giles, of  Boldwood  for Bathsheba, of Henchard  for Luccetta and Elizabeth-Jane. As Mr. Hardy himself, comments in ‘The Tess of the D’urbervilles’- “In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things, the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour of loving.”14 Commenting on these lines, in the light of Mr. Hardy’s philosophy of life,
H.C. Duffin remarks: “And it is the exceeding fervor of his heart’s desire , it is his passionately vivid  vision of ‘the well-judged plan of things’ that calls forth so untiringly the flash of Hardy’s bitterness and irony against the innumerable flaws in ‘the ill-judged execution.”15 But most critics are not against his fatalism. They consider it to be his realistic rendering of life, especially in the context of the modern world of anxiety and depression .
Albert J.Guerard. The love of the macabre coincidence and grotesque mischance, the cruel imagining and manipulated, all the bad luck and all the mismatched destinies, the darkness of the physical and moral landscapes, the awareness of dwindling energies and sense of Man’s appalling limitation – all these are peculiarly modern.”16
1. Deietrich, H.L.  A Final Destiny
2. Cecil Lord David, Hardy-the Novelist, London Constable, 1954 pp.26
3. Duffin, H.C. ThomasHardy, Oxford University Press, 1963    pp.184
4. Arnold Mathew, Shakespeare    L-1
5. Shakespeare William, Julius Caesar, S.Chand, 2000   pp.14
6. Shakespeare William, Macbeth, Sahitya Bhandar, 1995 pp.38-9
7.Roy Morell-Thomas Hardy, The Will and the Way, University of Malaya Press,1965   pp.14-15
8. Mishra Prof. Jayakanta, Lectures on Hardy. Garg Brothers, 1958 pp.60
9 Dwivedi Dr. A.N., Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems, Prakash Book Depot, 1993 pp.23
10.Ibid  pp.22-3
11. Laird J.T. The Shaping of the ‘Tess of D’Urbervilles,’Oxford Clarendon,1975 pp.50
12. Duffin H.C., Thomas Hardy, Oxford University Press, 1963   pp.193
13. Cecil Lord David, Hardy- the  novelist, London Constable,1954  pp.27
14 Hardy Thomas, The Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Rupa&Co.1982 pp.66
15. Duffin H.C., Thomas Hardy              , Oxford University Press, 1963 pp.196
16. Guerard Albert J., Hardy, A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice Hall, Inc1963 pp.08
Rinku Basu

Lecturer, K.P. Intermediate College, Allahabad,