Jude the Obscure (1895) is one of the finest tragic novels by Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1929), the Romantic novelist of the Victorian time in the history of the English fiction. Besides The Return of the Native, his other famous and popular novels are Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) on which his literary eminence rests. But it is also a fact that all his novels are tragic in vein that end with a note of moral lessons that the novelist propose to preach for the readers. Essentially Thomas Hardy portrays the tragic view of life that makes the profound appeal to the readers.
We know that Thomas Hardy established himself as a tragic novelist - in all his novels the protagonists inevitably suffer discomfiture and death. In Jude the Obscure we find that in the last event Jude's cousin Sue Bridehead finds her two children killed by their fostered son by Arabella, Jude's ex-wife. All through her life, Sue Bridehead loved her cousin Jude Fawley, the protagonist the title-character of the novel. Both Jude and Sue were holy souls far away from any foul or filthy acts. The killer-boy (Little Time) left a petty note that he killed the other brother and sister because they were "too menny". Hence the query as to who was responsible for Sue's tragedy.
In the plot of the tragic tale, we see that Jude was just a divine soul who aspired to study at a university in Christminster and turn himself a learned individual. But his noble ambition was not fulfilled as he hailed from a poor family and his aunt forwarded him to be a stonemason. He had to struggle for existence in which Arabella tricked him into the profound crises that channelized Jude's life into a complete failure.
It was Arabella who rather forced the simple-minded Jude into a marriage with the pretense that she was pregnant by him. She played the trick so that Jude could not leave his native village MarygreenforChristminster. But she left for Australia after their marriage turned unhappy. It was in Chrisminster where the schoolmaster Richard Philloston was working, who inspired Jude for higher studies. His inspiration was so potential that Jude really reached Christminster to enter the university. Even he started learning Greek and Latin languages as they were mandatory to pursue higher knowledge. His determination was so unbreakable that he got divorced from Arabella who stood on his way and ran away to Christminster.
At that stage Jude met his beautiful cousin Sue Bridehead but Jude never wanted to fall in love with her.Jude arranged to send Sue to Christminster because Phillotson could be her support and it would be a help for him when he would go there to join the university. It was Robert Philloston who provided Sue Bridehead with a teaching position and they got married after they fell in each other's love. But Jude had to take away Sue since she was deplorable with Philloston. However, Jude and Sue could not settle as husband and wife since they were not married. And Jude did not want to marry the cousin as it was considered unfair to marry a cousin. In addition, he was rather scared of marriage as his aunt and guardian told that marriage in their family was always a curse.
Then in Melchester the couple lived apart - Jude alone in a boarding house and Sue with her children in a hired house. For, they were not given any house on rent as they were not a married couple. In the meantime, however, Jude and Sue had to parent Arabella's son (Little Time) who was in Australia. So they had to rear up three children at home.
Now we see that Arabella was the root of all the crises in the life of Jude and Sue. She ruined Jude's entire life, who again caused some tragic situation in Sue's life, whom he actually wanted to protect. She (Arabella) played her selfish tricks on Jude to marry him and spoil all his academic plans. Later it was again Arabella, who dumped the responsibility of her son Little Time on Jude and Sue. But Jude carried on the load as a scapegoat and in the last event died in the hand of Arabella who in the final game tricked him to turn into her trap.
She was just uncaring while Jude fell sick after his reluctant compromise with Arabella. She played the tricks on Jude three times in his life that all were her nefarious schemes. It was too audacious on Arabella's part to pull Jude into her trap as it was an opportunity for her to operate on him as he was drifting from place to place with Sue, who did not have any social recognition of their live-together.
Schoolmaster Robert Phillotson can also be held responsible for the wretchedness Jude and Sue suffered. Phillotson did not play responsible role towards Sue as her husband so she was deeply discontent and finally got divorced. Good soul Jude then sheltered her and drifted in Melchester in a precarious plight.
Phillotson could protect Sue's whole career had he been more dutiful and responsible. Not only that, he could contribute a lot to Jude's career had he been caring towards simple-heated Jude. Jude asked for the Latin and Greek Grammar books that Phoillotson should have provided, especially because it was him who initiated the academic ambition in Jude, he inspired him to move towards Christminster where Jude was supposed to pursue his higher education.
It can also be seen that Jude's naïve nature was partly responsible for his and Sue's miseries. He was too credulous to believe whatever his first huntress Arabella said. He lacked the least faculty to measure the tricks applied on him. It was his failure to assess Arabella's nature so that he could avoid the marriage with her and save his career in the time to follow. Then in the next phase, it was Jude's too innocent gesture to be too accommodative and take Arabella's son Little Time on his shoulder. The case appeared as though Jude willingly incurred the burden dumped by Arabella, because after their formal separation through divorce Jude had had no legal responsibility in regard to Arabella's affair. But he acted too humanly and too leniently and thus aggravated his personal condition which in the final consequence affected Sue's life too.
It is also relevant to mention that some social norms acted as catalytic agent in bringing about the tragedy in the life of Jude and Sue. Jude really remained the "obscure" individual as he was in the beginning. He never rose up from his obscure background though he tried all the way. Jude proved to be an easy prey to his hunters and huntresses as well as by the subtly operative social force that never spared his forward moves for the promotion of his career. His firm conviction against marrying Sue lay in the social conviction that it was bad to marry one's cousin.
It was this social dictum that formulated Jude's moral design and prohibited from marrying Sue. Yet it was a possibility that Jude did not to any second brunt by marrying Sue. Not only that, we see that in Melchester Jude and Sue were not allowed to live in the same house only because they were not married. But we know both Jude and Sue were strongly self-ruled and would never entertain any objectionable mixing; they were determined to maintain their sexual sanctity. But the society would not look into their soul.
As for Sue, we also know that she was influenced by social conviction. In the last event, Sue considered that her children were killed because God had punished her for her illegal stay with Jude. Thus she blindly accepted the death of her children by Arabella's son. Her moral acceptance of such a gruesome act testifies the social psychology nourished through centuries. Sue was so deeply prejudiced with social conventions.
In fine, we see that Thomas Hardy's thesis in this novel was to attempt a criticism against some socio-cultural conventions that sometimes stand on the way to human progress. The writer is a Professor of English at Daffodil International University, Dhaka
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