Jude the Obscure

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Little Father Time Symbol Analysis

Little Father Time Symbol Icon
Little Father Time is a character in the novel, but he also acts as a symbol of coming of age and Hardy’s apprehensive view of the generation to come. Little Father Time lacks personality except as an excessively morbid, unexcitable child, but when he kills himself and Sue’s children it is the climax of the novel. As a symbol, Little Father Time represents the depression and amorality that Hardy sees as the inevitable result of the injustices in his society. Father Time is driven to despair by how poorly Jude and Sue are treated for being unmarried, and by his lack of love from Arabella and her parents. After Little Father Time’s death, the doctor actually diagnoses his murder-suicide as “in his nature” and “the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live.” In this way Hardy horrifies his readers and makes his social critiques seem that much more urgent, implying that the injustices of his generation will lead to tragedy in the next.

Little Father Time Quotes in Jude the Obscure

The Jude the Obscure quotes below all refer to the symbol of Little Father Time. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Jude the Obscure published in 1998.
Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care. That excessive regard of parents for their own children, and their dislike of other people’s, is, like class-feeling, patriotism, save-your-own-soul-ism and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom.

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue have been living happily together, having put aside their concerns about marriage. Meanwhile, Arabella has written a letter telling Jude that she has given birth to his son in Australia, and asks if Jude and Sue can take the boy in. Although Jude is not certain that the child is his, in this passage he asserts that it doesn't matter; adults have a responsibility for all children "of the time," and to artificially prefer one's own children to others is immoral in the same way as "class-feeling, patriotism, [and] save-your-own-soul-ism." Having presented radical views on love and marriage, the novel now undermines traditional notions of the family.

Jude's thoughts equate focusing on the blood relation between parents and children as exclusionary and unjust. Indeed, his statement about caring for all children "of the time" suggests a communalist ideology that conflicted with the Victorian Christian focus on the patriarchal, nuclear family unit. 

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Part 5, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Nobody thought o’ being afeared o’ matrimony in my time, nor of much else but a cannon-ball or empty cupboard. Why when I and my poor man were married we thought no more o’t than of a game o’ dibs.”
“Don’t tell the child when he comes in,” whispered Sue nervously. “He’ll think it has all gone on right, and it will be better that he should not be surprised and puzzled. Of course it is only put off for reconsideration. If we are happy as we are, what does it matter to anybody?”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), The Widow Edlin (speaker), Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue have adopted Little Father Time, and begun the process of getting married; however, the Widow Edlin has told a story about an unhappy marriage in their family that causes them to doubt whether they should proceed, and eventually they decide to postpone the wedding. In this passage, the Widow Edlin comments that nobody was afraid of marriage in the old days, and treated the whole matter casually. This illustrates the way in which Sue and Jude are distinctly modern figures, representing a new era. Unlike the Widow, they place a great deal of emphasis on the emotional aspect of marriage, and how it might change their relationship.

Meanwhile, Sue pleads that the Widow not mention the fact that she and Jude did not go through with the marriage to Little Father Time. Although she strives to live freely and unconventionally in her own life, Sue is evidently concerned with how this lifestyle will affect her adopted son. While she claims that "If we are happy as we are, what does it matter to anybody?", it is evident that Sue realizes that it does matter, even if she disagrees with the logic people use to judge unmarried couples. Overall, this passage confirms the difficulty of negotiating a life that runs counter to societal norms and expectations. 

Part 6, Chapter 2 Quotes

“It would almost be better to be out o’ the world than in it, wouldn’t it?”
“It would almost, dear.”
“’Tis because of us children, too, isn’t it, that you can’t get a good lodging.”
“Well – people do object to children sometimes.”
“Then if children make so much trouble, why do people have ‘em?”
“O – because it is a law of nature.”
“But we don’t ask to be born?”
“No indeed.”
“And what makes it worse with me is that you are not my real mother, and you needn’t have had me unless you liked. I oughtn’t to have come to ‘ee – that’s the real truth! I troubled ‘em in Australia; and I trouble folk here. I wish I hadn’t been born!”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Little Father Time (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christminster, Little Father Time
Page Number: 333
Explanation and Analysis:

In Christminster, Sue, Jude and the children have been refused lodging because of the fact that Sue and Jude aren't married. Sue is deeply depressed, and in this passage talks to Little Father Time about the difficulty of life. Although she doesn't mean to, Sue inadvertently confirms Little Father Time's suspicions that she and Jude would be better off if the children didn't exist. (This will eventually lead to Little Father Time's horrific murder-suicide.) The boy's world-weary personality suggests that, despite his young age, he understands the world better than the adults around him. Aspects of life that adults don't question––such as why people have children, given that life is so hard––trouble Little Father Time. His philosophical reflections on these matters show both his intelligence and his deep pessimism about life. 

“No,” said Jude. “It was in his nature to do it. The doctor says that there are such boys springing up amongst us – boys of a sort unknown in the last generation – the outcome of new views of life. They seem to see all its terrors before they are old enough to have staying power to resist them. He says it is the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live.”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

The day after Sue and Little Father Time's conversation about life, Sue goes to bring the children breakfast only to discover all three children hanged––Little Father Time has murdered the others before killing himself. Though all three are dead, Jude summons a doctor anyway, who confirms that there is no hope for them and adds that Little Father Time was in some sense predestined to commit suicide. The doctor even suggests that Little Father Time's actions were representative of "the coming universal wish not to live." This remarkable statement is surprising given the shocking nature of the murder-suicide. Little Father Time's actions completely contradict the way children are expected to behave, and thus the doctor's words indicate the boy's total dissimilarity from traditional ideas of childhood innocence.

Indeed, as Jude stresses in this passage, Little Father Time seems to have bypassed this state of innocence altogether, arriving at a sorrowful, pessimistic view of the world before he is old enough to be able to properly cope with suffering. The doctor's suggestions that Little Father Time is representative of a more general "wish not to live" emphasizes Little Father Time's association with a bleak, cruel future. At the same time, this death-drive itself is a cancellation of futurity, suggesting that even as Little Father Time symbolizes the coming of modernity, this future world is just darkness, nihilism, and death.

The boy’s face expressed the whole tale of their situation. On that little shape had converged all the inauspiciousness and shadow which had darkened the first union of Jude, and all the accidents, mistakes, fears, errors of the last. He was their nodal point, their focus, their expression in a single term. For the rashness of those parents he had groaned, for their ill-assortment he had quaked, and for the misfortunes of these he had died.

Related Characters: Jude Fawley, Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

Little Father Time has hanged his siblings and then himself in a horrifying murder-suicide. A doctor has told Jude and Sue that Little Father Time's nihilistic view of the world is symbolic of a new desire for death among the younger generation. Jude and Sue go to see the children's bodies, and feel that Little Father Time's face "expressed the whole tale of their situation." This passage utilizes the language typically used to describe parental love for children in positive terms, while twisting it in a decidedly sinister way, suggesting that Little Father Time has paid for his parents' "accidents, mistakes, fears, [and] errors." Once again, Little Father Time is represented less as an individual character than a symbol for some of the novel's key themes—a kind of Christ figure of modernity, who dies without reason or hope because of the sins of the world.

We said – do you remember? – that we would make a virtue of joy. I said it was Nature’s intention. Nature’s law and raison d’etre that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us – instincts which civilization had taken upon itself to thwart. What dreadful things I said! And now Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools as to take Nature at her word!

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

Following Little Father Time's murder-suicide, Jude and Sue have gone to view the children's bodies. They hear an organ playing a hymn, and Sue comments that it feels as though a force is punishing them for the way they have behaved. In this passage, Sue continues to fixate on the idea that "Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools." This is a crucial turning point in Sue's attitude toward faith, freedom, and morality. Whereas before the children's deaths Sue staunchly associated herself with a kind of "ancient," pagan atheism, the trajectory of her life has caused her to experience a crisis in which she believes she is being punished by God. 

This passage displays not only Sue's sudden turn to religiosity but also her newfound sense of pessimism. In previous years, Sue justified her nonconformist lifestyle by claiming that she was living according to natural instincts. Now, however, she suddenly sees nature as deceitful and cruel, and exclaims in shame about the "dreadful things" she used to think.

Part 6, Chapter 3 Quotes

“I see marriage differently now!... My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella’s child killing mine was a judgment; the right slaying the wrong. What, what shall I do! I am such a vile creature – too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings.”
…He returned vehemently… “You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called, if it’s that which has caused this deterioration in you. That a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond – whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of, if they could have known you – should degrade herself like this! I am glad I had nothing to do with Divinity – damn glad – if it’s going to ruin you in this way!”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Sue Bridehead (speaker), Arabella Donn, Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

Following the children's deaths, Sue and Jude and have moved to Beersheba, where they live in a state of depression and despair. Sue has declared that they are being punished by God, and thus have "no choice" but to "conform." In this passage, Sue explains her dramatic change of heart, telling Jude that she interprets Little Father Time killing her children as "the right slaying the wrong." Jude responds by telling Sue that she makes him "hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism," and feel glad that he's not religious. Jude's reply is interesting, as it highlights the fact that he has now taken on Sue's previous beliefs wholeheartedly, and is indeed defending them from Sue herself. Jude and Sue have switched places, and Jude is now the one speaking with Hardy's skeptical and pessimistic but defiant voice.

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Little Father Time Symbol Timeline in Jude the Obscure

The timeline below shows where the symbol Little Father Time appears in Jude the Obscure. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 5, Chapter 4
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...child his name, and he says he has no name, though his nickname is “ Little Father Time ” because he seems so aged and world-weary. Jude is disturbed by this, but he... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
...husband came to steal the child’s coffin and was arrested for burglary. After this story Little Father Time advises Sue not to marry. (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...– in her time no one thought much of it. They decide not to tell Little Father Time that they didn’t go through with it, and declare that they will put their own... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 5
Marriage Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women in Society Theme Icon
For a while Jude and Sue are happy together, though Little Father Time remains gloomy and world-weary. One day there is an agricultural show in the town of... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Women in Society Theme Icon
Arabella scornfully says that Little Father Time can’t be Sue’s child, as Sue and Jude haven’t been married long enough. Cartlett still... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...and have forgotten all the gloom of Christianity. The only stain on their happiness is Little Father Time , who apologizes for his pessimism – he likes the flowers at the fair, but... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 6
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women in Society Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...at a nearby church, and Sue comes along to help him. While they are working Little Father Time comes in, crying that other children mocked Sue in front of him. Jude and Sue... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...away. They sell all their furniture at auction, and Jude and Sue remain upstairs with Little Father Time . They overhear all the townspeople discussing their personal lives. Jude and Sue decide where... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...confesses to Jude, and she laments aloud that the law of Nature is “mutual butchery.” Little Father Time asks if this is true, and Sue affirms it. Jude lists all the towns where... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 7
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Women in Society Theme Icon
...at the Kennetbridge spring fair dressed in mourning. She sees Sue there selling cakes with Little Father Time , and Arabella approaches them, saying that she is mourning her husband Cartlett. Arabella questions... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 1
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Three weeks later Jude and Sue arrive at Christminster with their two children and Little Father Time , who has been officially christened “Jude” but still goes by his nickname. They arrive... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Jude and Sue wander about looking for lodging, but they are turned away. Little Father Time declares that he doesn’t like Christminster, and he doesn’t want to ever go to a... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...anyway. The landlady tells Sue that they can only stay for a week. Sue and Little Father Time wander about looking for a different room, but they are unsuccessful. Little Father Time says... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 2
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...the strength of Jude’s dream that he should have brought them to dreary, unfriendly Christminster. Little Father Time is also upset, and he worries about where they will stay the next day. (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Little Father Time questions Sue about life, and she affirms that everything is trouble and suffering. She says... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
...and finds all three children dead, hanging from clothes hooks. An overturned chair is near Little Father Time ’s feet. (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
...the children, but they are all dead. On the floor they find a note from Little Father Time saying “Done because we are too menny.” Sue feels that this is her fault and... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...there is no hope for the children. The doctor had said that it was in Little Father Time ’s “nature” to commit this act, and acts like this have been springing up among... (full context)
Marriage Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women in Society Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Sue weeps and tells Jude about her conversation with Little Father Time the night before. She feels that her relationship with Jude is now “stained with blood,”... (full context)