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Dysfunctional families and determinism in the fiction of Thomas Hardy

Mary Ann Tighe Longo, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


An examination of the families in Hardy's novels and short stories shows them to be dysfunctional. With insight that anticipates today's family therapists, Hardy illustrates how dysfunctional families fail adequately to nurture and provide for their members. As the result of emotional conditioning begun in an impaired family of origin, a character is set up to act out repetitive and destructive behavior patterns of which he or she is mostly unaware, and therefore unable to escape or change. Viewing Hardy's characters from the perspective of the dysfunctional family changes one's idea of fate in the fiction of Thomas Hardy. Contrary to other critics' sense of fate in Hardy as linear, with a causality based on the unfolding of events, this study shows characters' fate following more of a circular movement in which emotional patterns learned from within the family condition their responses to events. Events in the plots have an impact, most often of an unlucky sort, but how the characters react to these occurrences determines the degree to which events damage their lives. This dissertation explores in Hardy's fiction the individual dysfunctions of alcoholism, marital conflict between the newly-married, conflict between couples with children, and parentification of children. This study reveals that each person within the family system both contributes to and suffers from its problems and that dysfunction continues through the generations. Hardy also shows how sociocultural forces like class, economics, and gender roles combine with hereditary, psychological, and interactional factors to form the sociology of the family, which effectively circumscribes each member so as to become the primary determinant of the character's fate. Given the unhappiness of most of his families, Hardy's views allow little hope for amelioration and success within his fictional world. He suggests, however, that the reader may see in the literary production insights that could lead to the self consciousness necessary to break the circular pattern of family behavior.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Individual & family studies|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Longo, Mary Ann Tighe, "Dysfunctional families and determinism in the fiction of Thomas Hardy" (1993). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9333975.