Jude The Obscure: Theme In Relation To The Author

919 words - 4 pages

Thomas Hardy's Jude The Obscure is a romantic Victorian bildungsroman that tells the story of Jude Fawley, a hopeful working-class scholar who falls in love with Sue Bridehead, his cousin. Finding that their relationship attracts the anger and criticism of their community, Jude and Sue experience isolation and tragedy throughout the novel. Jude The Obscure is set in fictional Wessex, an area located southwest of England; however, many subtleties throughout the story suggest that the places Jude visits are based on real cities from Thomas Hardy's life. For example, Christminster, a collegiate city, is said to be modeled on Oxford, while Marygreen and Melchester are modeled on Fawley and Salisbury, respectively. Though Jude The Obscure is filled with several themes involving religion, love, class, and dreams, its central theme focuses on marriage and its societal constructs during Hardy's time. When it was first published, Jude The Obscure was censured by critics for attacking the institution of marriage. It even strained the relationship between Thomas Hardy and his wife, who feared that readers would think that the novel was describing her own marriage. Jude and Sue are married to other people, even though they have little to no contact with them. Despite this fact, others around them view their marriage as illegitimate because, according to societal constructs, Jude and Sue are doing wrong against the Church. Society thus ostracizes the two causing tragedy to befall upon them.

During Hardy's time, divorce wasn't as prevalent as it is today, and usually only wealthy men were able to leave their wives. A man could divorce his wife on grounds as simple as adultery, while a woman had to prove cruelty, rape, sodomy, incest or bigamy. A man could sue an adulterous third party, while a woman could not. And consensual divorce was not mentioned in any laws; therefore, the consensual divorce between Jude and Sue was invalid because they weren't having affairs. Hardy's view on marriage is clear when he writes about the relationship between Jude an Arabella, Jude's first love, “Their lives were ruined, he thought; ruined by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union: that of having based a permanent contract on a temporary feeling which had no necessary connection with affinities that alone render a life-long comradeship tolerable” (pg. 59). Hardy believed that it was wrong to force two people who don't love each other to marry or stay together. In other words: he didn't think that marriage was the issue, but the irrevocable contract was. Jude marries Arabella for the simple reason that society forces him to do so. Arabella tells Jude that she is pregnant, when she knows she isn't, and the word quickly spreads. Jude realizes that if...

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