Tess is a young woman who tends to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is a victim, but she is also, at times, irresponsible. She falls asleep while taking the beehives to market, which ends up killing the family horse, Prince. She decides to visit the d’Urbervilles in Trantridge, giving rise to all her future woes, partly out of the guilt and responsibility she feels toward her family. She wants to make good, but in trying to help her family she loses sight of her own safety and her own wants and wishes. She becomes Alec’s victim in the forest. She probably should have known not to put herself in such a situation, but she has few other options. Here, it seems as though she is destined to rely on others, even when they are unreliable.
But Tess is also a strong woman throughout the novel. She stands up for herself and refuses to crumble under pressure. She chastises herself for her weakness after her sexual escapade with Alec. If we agree with her claim that this indiscretion is a moment of weakness, we probably also feel that such weakness is not unlike that of most human beings. She is hard on herself for letting herself become a victim. At the burial of her child, Sorrow, she weeps but collects herself and moves on as a stronger woman. Overall, her determined attempts to escape her past primarily reflect her strength.