Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure

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  • Topic: Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy's Wessex
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  • Published : December 6, 2010
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The novel Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, was first published unabridged in 1896. It narrates the doomed existence of the protagonist, Jude, from the moment he is still a boy at Marygreen and is inspired by a rural schoolmaster to think of a university education, to the moment in which he dies, alone and unattended. It tells the story of a man whose dreams and ambitions are gradually destroyed, and end up being shattered. Jude lives an enternal cyclical movement, in which he never gets any closer to whaever he is looking for, due to forces which seem to be operating against him all the time. In this essay, I will conduct an analysis of these social forces, in order to show that Hardy did create a realistic depiction of ninteenth century British society. According to Brooks [1], a realistic depiction is similar to the vision we have if go up a high tower and remove the housetops of the houses, to show what is really happening in the rooms exposed. It is a duty of the realistic writer, to dismantle appearances and not to reproduce the façade, and “to give us not only the world viewed, as well as the world comprehended .” Hardy shows us that Jude is making choices at a certain level, referring to his personal life, but there are social and economic forces which operate on him so he does not take decisions, once these circumstances limit his choices.

Early on in the novel, we see Jude struggling against the circumstances. The village of Marygreen is set in opposition to the university town of Christminster. The young Jude sees Christminster as an enlightened place of learning, relating it to his dreams of higher education and his vague notions of academic success. Yet while Jude lives quite close to Christminster and knows a man who is going to live there, the city is always only a distant vision in his mind. It is nearly within his reach but at the same time unattainable. This physical distance is a metaphor for the abstract distance between the impoverished Jude and the privileged Christminster students. For the first time in the novel we see Jude heading towards a destination, and being unable to reach it.

At the start of the novel, Jude is portrayed as a determined and innocent young man who aspires to things greater than his background allows. He resists succumbing to the discouragement of those around him and does not fear the gap he is creating between himself and the other people of his village. He is seen as eccentric and perhaps impertinent, and his aspirations are dismissed as unrealistic. These circumstances might have led him to marry Arabella. All through his young adult life, he avoids going to Christminster. He appears to be afraid of the failure he might encounter there. In Arabella, he sees something attainable and instantly gratifying, as opposed to the university life, of which he fears he may never become a part. In this way Jude tries to avoid disappointment, but finds that he cannot live within the confines of an unhappy marriage. The freedom he receives after Arabella leaves is only partially liberating: It lets him be independent in a physical sense, but because he is still married, it forbids him to achieve legitimate romantic happiness with someone else.

Jude is attracted to Christminster because of Sue, who he seeks with a strange devotion, despite his aunt's warning that he should stay away from he. Taken together with her warning that marriages in their family never end well and with the fact that they are cousins, Jude's haste to find and fall in love with Sue creates a sense of foreboding about his fate.

He finds that the Christminster colleges are not welcoming toward self-educated men, and when he accepts that he may not be able to study at the university after all, he starts drinking.

“ He began to see that the town life was a book of humanity infinitely more palpitating, varied, and compendious than the gown life. These struggling men and women before him were the reality...
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