Guilt, Duty, and Unrequited Love

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Guilt, Duty, and Unrequited Love: Deconstructing the Love Triangles in James Joyce's The Dead and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure

"It's no problem of mine but it's a problem I fight, living a life that I can't leave behind. But there's no sense in telling me, the wisdom of the cruel words that you speak. But that's the way that it goes and nobody knows, while everyday my confusion grows."

--New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle, from Substance, 1987

Most people who have watched a soap opera can recognize that the love triangle is a crucial element to the plot. In fact, the original radio broadcasted soap operas seemed to consist almost entirely of love triangles. The love triangle, for plot purposes, seems to be a popular technique employed to change the dynamic, add dimension, and generally ‘spice up' an otherwise stagnant monogamous relationship. It would make for a pretty dull and quite unpopular show if such popular daytime soap characters as Luke and Laura or Bo and Hope had enjoyed a smooth courtship, uncomplicated marriage and then grew old and gray together without a single conflict. The viewers watched them go through many conflicts, some of which involved the classic love triangle. Such conflicts as the love triangle keep the story moving. Common elements of triangles in today's soaps consist of lust, greed, jealousy, any of which are interchangeable with the conflicts resulting from situations involving lovers coming back from the dead or paternity uncertainties. Yet love triangles, whether in the soap opera or in the novel, are not all uniformly constructed. James Joyce's The Dead and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, both modernist novels, each contain love triangles as an integral element of the story.

The key triangles I will focus on are comprised of Michael, Greta and Gabriel, and, Philotson, Sue, and Jude. Although not absolutely identical, deconstruction reveals guilt, duty, and unrequited love as essential components to the construction of both.

Besides the most obvious similarity that both triangles are composed of one woman and two men, guilt also figures prominently. Although the men of the triangles may have their own guilt-related issues, it seems as though it is the guilt felt by the women that presents the most conflict. In The Dead, Greta has to live with the knowledge that it is because of her, although indirectly, that Michael died. It is likely that because of this guilt that she pauses on the staircase to listen to The Lass of Aughrim, a song that, as she tells Gabriel later, reminds her of Michael. At the time, her husband interprets her expression on the staircase as one of "grace and mystery…as if she were a symbol of something."(Joyce 2028). He was correct, except not in the way that he thought. All the way to the hotel, the lingering memory of that sight of her incites his passion. However, he experiences a terrible upset as Greta tells him about the song and what it means to her. This is the critical moment where Michael, or rather his memory, enters and completes the triangle, although he may have been there all along without Gabriel's knowledge. To Gabriel, this turn of events casts a different light on his entire marriage to Greta as he "thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he told her that he did not wish to live"(Joyce 2035). He wonders "how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life"(Joyce 2035). Although it is a bit peculiar for one of the members of this bizarre love triangle to reside beyond the grave, we see here that Michael plays a significannot role, perhaps altering Gabriel and Greta's relationship forever, with Greta's guilt as the instigating factor.

As for Sue, in Jude, her guilt operates on a completely different level, a religious one. Like Greta, Sue also had a sick man die after...
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