She had hoped to be a teacher at the school, but the fates seemed to decide otherwise.
While Tess prepares to leave home to work for the d’Urbervilles, she reflects on the fact that fate has set her in a different direction than she originally envisioned. By this point in the story, readers know how Tess and her family rely on and believe in the idea of fate. In her guilt over the death of the horse, Tess doesn’t take a stand against her parents’ decision to have her leave home. Instead, she sees her circumstances as out of her control. While Tess is not responsible for everything that happens to her in the novel, she makes a crucial mistake here in not deciding on her own future.
As Tess’s own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: “It was to be.”
The narrator frames the perspective of people from Tess’s home village of Alec’s sexual abuse of Tess, counterpointing the failure of accountability. As with everything in life, they would believe that fate governed Tess’s situation and it could not have been avoided. Such dangerous thinking prevents people from taking agency over their own lives. However, this logic might also serve as a coping mechanism when one experiences painful or traumatic events.
“Why didn’t you stay and love me when I—was sixteen; living with my little sisters and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn’t you, why didn’t you!” she said, impetuously clasping her hands.
After Tess and Angel become engaged, she wrestles with whether or not to tell him about her past. She claims that she does not deserve him, and here she asks him why he did not ask her to dance when they saw each other years ago. She believes that if he had stayed and they had fallen in love, she never would have gone to work for the d’Urbervilles, and therefore would not have been raped by Alec and given birth to a child who died. In Tess’s mind, one change of history could have changed her entire fate.