Compare the extent to which Alec and Reg can be considered the antagonists of their respective novels Tess of the DUrbervilles and Hey Nostradamus!

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Compare the extent to which Alec and Reg can be considered the antagonists of their respective novels ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Hey Nostradamus!’

Alec and Reg are employed by Hardy and Coupland as a means of exploring a number of complex issues such as love, religion and the nature of evil, though as the presentation of these characters is a largely negative one, the authors tend to dwell on the pessimistic aspects of these themes. However, the two are not presented as entirely unfavourable characters thanks to a number of techniques and complicating narrative events used by Coupland and Hardy, and it is these elements that will be examined throughout this essay.

From the early phases of each novel we are positioned to look upon Alec and Reg unfavourably. Upon his first appearance, Alec’s physical description is devilish, “a well groomed moustache with curled points”, this being reminiscent of an archetypal melodrama villain, immediately characterising him as a typical antagonist. The reader’s first encounter with Reg is through Cheryl’s description of him as “a mean, dried out old fart”, which similarly doesn’t allow the reader to empathise with him. This continues for the majority of each novel. Hardy invites us to take a macabre pleasure in Alec’s death with the phrase “Drip, drip, drip”, while similarly Jason takes a grim delight in his intricate recount of his fathers broken kneecap “shattering it into twenty-nine fragments that required a marathon eighteen hour surgery and seven titanium pins to rectify”, Coupland’s relish in these facts and details proving to be darkly comic, encouraging the reader to empathise with Jason’s pleasure in Reg’s pain and cementing Reg as an unlikable character at this point. The authors also manipulate the reader’s emotions and shape their view of the characters in their use of narrative form. Hardy employs an omniscient narrative viewpoint, but is quite selective in its use; for example, in dealing with Alecs’ murder through Mrs Brooks Hardy denies the reader any chance of empathising with Alec. Coupland achieves a similar effect through a different method; with the use of a number of narrators, Coupland puts forth a number of different viewpoints, but, particularly with the first narrators, these phases dwell on the negative elements of Reg, this also not allowing the reader to empathise with the character.

The extent to which Alec and Reg take responsibility for their actions shapes the readers perception of them as antagonists. Alec can largely be seen as the villain of the novel, with his rape of Tess effectively destroying her, something he recognises “I admit it – I wronged you”, but his fatalistic reasoning to justify his actions are quite unsatisfactory “I was born bad, I have lived bad and I shall die bad”, Alec appearing to be attempting to make himself exempt from blame in speaking as if his nature is beyond his control. It is possible that he was unaware that he was doing wrong in raping her, claiming of her reluctance “That’s what every woman says”, which doesn’t justify his actions but does indicate why he was at first so passive, as evidenced in their exchange of dialogue during the opening pages of ‘Maiden No More’ and Alec’s relaxed body language despite Tess’ despair, “He shrugged his shoulders”. He does later attempt to atone for his sins, both spiritually as a preacher and financially in providing for Tess’ family, this contrasting his previous, wicked way of attempting to become Tess’ suitor in offering material possessions “your father has a new cob”, this clear difference in attitude faintly lessening his villainous persona.

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In Regs’ case, it is during the final phase that he attempts to atone for his prior tyrannical attitude, most evident throughout Jason’s narrative where we are positioned to see his response to Jason killing one of the ‘Gun Boys’ as entirely irrational and unfair “You killed a boy today?”. But as the narrative progresses, we learn more of his warped, religious motivations, “All I ever wanted for you was the Kingdom”, yet this does not justify his actions. In the final part, however, Reg tries to make amends, despite it being futile as Jason is dead, a clear ...

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