Jude the Obscure

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Jude the Obscure, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fate Theme Icon

Throughout the book Hardy subjects his characters to many hardships and unlucky coincidences which come to feel like fate, whether that fate is interpreted as a supernatural punishment for rebelling against religion or a fate determined by a society structured to thwart independent, sensitive souls like Jude and Sue. The novel’s overarching story of fate is that Jude and Sue’s family is “cursed” in marriage – both Jude’s parents and Sue’s parents were divorced, and they have an ancestor who was hanged for stealing his child’s body from his estranged wife. This curse comes to affect the protagonists’ actions, as they avoid marrying each other and possibly doubling the curse. Fate looms over the characters in other situations as well, like when Jude tries so hard to get into a college but is always fated to fail because of his poverty and class. Over the course of the book Jude, Sue, and their children are slowly crushed by their bad luck and an unfriendly society. They become depressed, and start to believe that it is better never to be born than to live in such a cruel world. The climax of the novel, Little Father Time’s murder-suicide, is portrayed as an inevitable result of the situation in which he was raised: a product of divorce, depression, and bad luck. As with the marriage question, Hardy gives no easy answer regarding fate. He seems to imply that humans should struggle against their fate (if it’s bad), but at the same time he shows just how futile this struggle usually is.

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Fate Quotes in Jude the Obscure

Below you will find the important quotes in Jude the Obscure related to the theme of Fate.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

As the halo had been to his eyes when gazing at it a quarter of an hour earlier, so was the spot mentally to him as he pursued his dark way.
“It is a city of light,” he said to himself.
“The tree of knowledge grows there,” he added a few steps further on.
“It is a place that teachers of men spring from, and go to.”
“It is what you may call a castle, manned by scholarship and religion.”
After this figure he was silent for a long while, till he added,
“It would just suit me.”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christminster
Page Number: 25-26
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude has been fantasizing about Christminster, asking other men about it and hoping to catch a glimpse of it from the roof of the Brown House on clear nights. Although the men have told Jude that at Christminster they read books in languages he will never understand, Jude has resolved to make it his life's goal to attend one of the colleges there. In this passage, Jude gazes at the distant "halo" of the city while describing it to himself in positive, even holy terms. Indeed, phrases such as "city of light" and "tree of knowledge" emphasize the way in which Christminster is holy to Jude, and that his dedication to it has become akin to religious faith. 

At the same time, the way Jude talks to himself about Christminster illustrates how isolated and uninformed he really is about his goal. The information he's received about the city has almost entirely come from other working-class men who have never been there, and this is part of the reason why Jude elevates it to mystical, unrealistic proportions. Jude's lack of realistic information also foreshadows the fact that he will ultimately fail to be admitted to the university. His final statement, "It would just suit me," is tragically erroneous. Although the ideal climate of "scholarship and religion" that Jude imagines would indeed suit him, the reality of Christminster is a place that is closed off to Jude and other men of his social class. 


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Part 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

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.
“Going to ill-use me on principle, as your father ill-used your mother, and your father’s sister ill-used her husband?” she asked. “All you Fawleys be a queer lot as husbands and wives.”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Arabella Donn (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Arabella's marriage is a disaster; Jude has overheard friends of Arabella's saying that she tricked him into marriage, and the couple have been arguing ferociously. In this passage, Jude comes to the realization that "their lives were ruined... by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union." Jude's thoughts frame the problem not as unique to his and Arabella's unhappy situation, but rather as a fundamental issue with the institution of marriage in general. The feelings he and Arabella had for one another were temporary, and not conducive to "life-long comradeship." Note that this kind of question remains at the heart of debates over marriage in the present day, and thus this passage reveals just how forward-thinking Hardy was for his time.

Arabella's taunts to Jude are also significant for the way that they invoke the notion of fate. Arabella suggests that unhappy marriages are a kind of curse in Jude's family, repeating within each generation in a cycle of misery. Again, consider the way in which this kind of thinking preempts 20th-century sociological and psychoanalytic discourse about cycles of trauma and abuse. Although Arabella's words seem unfairly harsh, it is nonetheless reasonable to infer that Jude's distrust of the institution of marriage originates in witnessing his parents' unhappy marriage and eventual divorce. 

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

Only a wall divided him from those happy young contemporaries of his with whom he shared a common mental life; men who had nothing to do from morning till night but to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Only a wall – but what a wall!

Related Characters: Jude Fawley
Related Symbols: Christminster
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude has finally gone to Christminster, and on his first night there walks around in a rapture, feeling as if he is surrounded by the ghosts of dead writers. In the morning, however, reality begins to sink in. Jude has noticed that the buildings are decayed, and briefly considers the notion that being a stoneworker is perhaps as valuable as being a scholar. However, this thought does not last long, and Jude ponders the "wall" that separates him and the students at Christminster. These thoughts reveal Jude's insight as well as his naïveté. Of course, much more than a wall separates Jude from the Christminster students––at the same time, by exclaiming "what a wall!", Jude shows understanding of how the wall symbolizes the exclusivity and elitism of the university. 

Indeed, this passage raises complex questions about the relationship between material existence and the life of the mind. As Jude rightly infers, even an elite university like Christminster relies on the work of stonemasons and other manual laborers in order to function. Ironically, it is these workers who construct the walls that then symbolize their exclusion from the institution within them. 

Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

Jude, do you think that when you must have me with you by law, we shall be so happy as we are now? The men and women of our family are very generous when everything depends upon their good-will, but they always kick against compulsion. Don’t you dread the attitude that insensibly arises out of legal obligation? Don’t you think it is destructive to a passion whose essence is its gratuitousness?

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue has spoken with Arabella, who advised her to marry Jude. However, this has only further convinced Sue that marriage is a "vulgar institution." In response, Jude has remarked that Sue seems more like someone from an ancient civilization than the Christian era in which she lives. Yet Sue continues to confess her doubts about marriage, asking Jude if he thinks he would continue to love her if they got married, and reminding him that there is a history of resistance to "compulsion" within their family. Once again, Sue raises the notion that the legalistic nature of marriage can destroy "passion," happiness, and love. Although she conveys a more generous view of hers and Jude's family than Arabella, she clearly feels concerned about the familial legacy of divorce and how it might influence her own fate.

Part 5, Chapter 8 Quotes

“She’d have come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! it’s all the same in the end! However, I think she’s quite fond of her man still – whatever he med be of her. You were too quick about her. I shouldn’t have let her go! I should have kept her chained on – her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough! There’s nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf task-master for taming us women. Besides, you’ve got the laws on your side. Moses knew… ‘Then shall the man be guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity.’ Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi’ it – Haw haw! – Well; she’s got her deserts now.”
“Yes,” said Phillotson, with biting sadness. “Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can’t get out of it if we would!”

Related Characters: Arabella Donn (speaker), Richard Phillotson (speaker), Jude Fawley
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

Arabella has run into Phillotson on the road and introduced herself to him. Phillotson reveals that he was disgraced as a result of divorcing Sue, and Arabella tells him that Sue is now unhappy and that Phillotson should have stayed with her. Arabella's words present a bleak, depressing view of gender, marriage, and indeed human existence in general. She compares women to horses that need to be tamed, and says that Sue has got what she deserved. Phillotson is not as harsh, but seems lost and defeated by the tragic circumstances of his life, exclaiming that "cruelty is the law pervading all of nature and society."

In many ways, this statement can be interpreted as the main message of the novel. Regardless of the choices one makes––whether one chooses to pursue individual happiness and freedom or succumbs to societal expectations––life is ruthless and most people are miserable. Arabella's claim that "it's all the same in the end" resonates with this bleak view of humanity. No matter how hard people try to find happiness, they are inevitably broken down by the cruelty of life. 

Part 6, Chapter 2 Quotes

“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.

Part 6, Chapter 3 Quotes

Perhaps as we couldn’t conscientiously marry at first in the old-fashioned way, we ought to have parted. Perhaps the world is not illuminated enough for such experiments as ours! Who were we, to think we could act as pioneers!

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker)
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue has grown increasingly religious, obsessed with the idea that the children's deaths were God's punishment for the fact that she and Jude lived together despite being unmarried. Jude is horrified by Sue's sudden religiosity, though in this passage he too concedes that perhaps they shouldn't have been together considering they "couldn't conscientiously marry at first in the old-fashioned way." Note the stark difference in the way Jude and Sue interpret the "mistake" of their relationship: whereas now Sue believes that marriage is important because it is part of the natural law of God, Jude believes that it is simply too difficult to "act as pioneers" and live against the rules and conventions of society. Despite everything, Jude infers that their way of life was an "illuminated... experiment" in a backwards world.

Part 6, Chapter 10 Quotes

As for Sue and me when we were at our best, long ago – when our minds were clear, and our love of truth fearless – the time was not ripe for us! Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us. And so the resistance they met with brought reaction in her, and recklessness and ruin on me!

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Sue Bridehead
Page Number: 400
Explanation and Analysis:

Time has passed, and Jude's illness has abated, before returning. Arabella has told Jude that she will allow Sue to come and see him, but Jude responds that he doesn't wish to see her. Jude then reminisces about his time with Sue, reflecting that "our minds were clear, and our love of truth fearless," but that society was not ready to handle such courage and independence. Although undeniably tragic, Jude's thoughts in this passage also contain a note of optimism. His assertion that he and Sue were "fifty years too soon" suggests that more honest and free ways of living may be possible in the near future. Unlike Sue, he also refuses to blame himself for the events that befell him, but understands that they were the result of terrible luck and a harsh, oppressive society.