Criticism of the novels of Thomas Hardy has tended to examine his art as a propagation of a consistent philosophy of life. The tendency has been to perceive Hardy either as a fatalistic artist advocating the view that man and the universe are directed by an external power or as a deterministic novelist belonging to the school of naturalism. Such criticism tends to overlook and underrate the fact that Hardy was essentially a writer of tragedies. An essential element of the tragic vision is that man determines his own fate. It is this which distinguishes tragedy from pathos.
This study examines the concept that "character is fate" in Hardy's four major tragic novels—The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. In all four tragedies, the protagonist-antagonist relationship is similar: the protagonist struggles against antagonistic environmental forces. External forces do not, however, determine the course the protagonist's life takes. Analyses of the characters of Hardy's protagonists and the plots of his tragic novels reveal that, for Hardy, character is indeed fate.