Jude the Obscure

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Social Criticism Theme Analysis

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Much of the novel serves as a vessel for Hardy’s criticism of English Victorian society. Most of this critique is aimed at the institution of marriage, but Hardy also targets education, class divides, and hypocrisy. The early part of the novel involves Jude’s quest to be accepted into a college at Christminster, a university town based on Oxford. Jude works for years teaching himself classical languages, but he is never accepted simply because of his social class and poverty. In Jude’s unjustified failures Hardy demonstrates the unfairness and classism of the educational system.

Relating to the marriage theme, Hardy also emphasizes the oppressiveness of Victorian society in dealing with any unorthodox domestic situation. Jude and Sue cannot find a room or a steady job as long as their marital status is anything but traditional, and Phillotson loses his teaching jobs because he allowed Sue to leave him. Hardy was far ahead of his time in many of his views – implying that universities should accept members of the working class, couples could live together without being married, and even that the father of a woman’s child should be the woman’s business alone – but Hardy’s society was not ready for such criticism. The backlash against Jude the Obscure was so harsh that Hardy gave up writing altogether.

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Social Criticism Quotes in Jude the Obscure

Below you will find the important quotes in Jude the Obscure related to the theme of Social Criticism.
Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

And so, standing before the aforesaid officiator, the two swore that at every other time of their lives till death took them, they would assuredly believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks. What was as remarkable as the undertaking itself was the fact that nobody seemed at all surprised at what they swore.

Related Characters: Jude Fawley, Arabella Donn
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude has told Arabella that he thinks he should move away, and in response Arabella has lied, telling him that she is pregnant. Although Jude believes this will signal the end of his dreams of going to Christminster, he nonetheless agrees to marry her, as this is the honorable thing to do. In this passage, the narrator describes the marriage ceremony, describing it in detached language and framing it as a pact to "believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks." Although marriage was a completely normal and central institution during the Victorian era (and still is), the narrator here seeks to defamiliarize it, showing how the very concept is strange and unrealistic.

The narrator remarks that it was "remarkable" that "nobody seemed at all surprised" by the ceremony, suggesting the reader themselves should feel surprised or alarmed by what has taken place. Indeed, the narrator's words highlight the bizarre and arguably immoral nature of marriage by describing the vows as a promise to feel the same way forever. The way Jude and Isabella have felt in the short, tumultuous weeks they have spent together is now supposedly to automatically extend for a lifetime. This is alarming not only because of its unrealistic resistance to growth, maturity, and change, but also because the "few preceding weeks" have been hardly ideal in the first place. Although sensually attracted to each other, it is clear that Jude and Isabella are not particularly compatible, and the whole reason why the marriage is taking place is because Isabella lied to Jude––a rather worrying precedent for a lifetime of marriage. 


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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 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

You prove it in your own person. You are one of the very men Christminster was intended for when the colleges were founded; a man with a passion for learning, but no money, or opportunities, or friends. But you were elbowed off the pavement by the millionaires’ sons.

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley
Related Symbols: Christminster
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue is staying at Jude's house, although he has had to hide her from his landlady in order to avoid a scandal. The pair have discussed their education, and Jude has realized that Sue is more widely-read than he is. Sue has described to Jude how she lived platonically with a Christminster undergraduate who was in love with her; however, she did not love him, and he died of what Sue suspects was a broken heart. In this passage, Sue tells Jude that she believes he (Jude) is "one of the very men Christminster was intended for when the colleges were founded," but that the original ideal of accessible education has been corrupted by exclusivity and elitism.

Once again, Sue shows a level of insight and maturity that makes Jude look naïve in comparison. She understands the paradox at the heart of Christminster and other elite educational institutions: although they have the potential to promote progressive values and social mobility, they are taken over by "the millionaires' sons" and thus remain a privilege only afforded to the wealthy. Note the similarity of Sue's critique to Christminster to critiques of the way Christianity has changed since its earliest forms in the centuries after Christ's death. It is certainly possible to draw a parallel between the way that both religious and educational institutions have egalitarian ideals at their core, but are corrupted by elitism, exclusion, and the desire for power.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

Jude, before I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew… I am certain one ought to be allowed to undo what one has done so ignorantly. I daresay it happens to lots of women; only they submit, and I kick… When people of a later age look back upon the barbarous customs and superstitions of the times that we have the unhappiness to live in, what will they say!

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley, Richard Phillotson
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue's aunt has died, and they have met in Marygreen for the funeral. Sue has confessed that she likes Phillotson as a friend but finds him repulsive as a husband. She tells Jude that she wishes it were possible "to undo what one has done so ignorantly," and that she believes people in the future will look back on marriage as a "barbarous custom." Although Sue has previously claimed to be more pagan than modern, in this passage she strongly identifies herself with a more enlightened, fair, and rational future that she imagines will follow the era in which she lives. Note the similarity between Sue's objection to marriage and that expressed by Jude; both point to the absurdity of committing forever to feelings that can change so quickly.

Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

“What is the use of thinking of laws and ordinances,” she burst out, “if they make you miserable when you know you are committing no sin?”
“But you are committing a sin in not liking me.”
“I do like you! But I didn’t reflect it would be – that it would be so much more than that… For a man and woman to live on intimate terms when one feels as I do is adultery, in any circumstances, however legal. There – I’ve said it!... Will you let me, Richard?”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Richard Phillotson (speaker)
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue have parted ways, kissing passionately before doing so. Jude has decided that, since he loves Sue so fiercely, he cannot join the clergy; meanwhile, Sue is tormented by her feelings for Jude, and hides from Phillotson in a closet. Phillotson confronts her, and Sue tells him vaguely that she is "miserable" and that living intimately with him would constitute "adultery... however legal." Sue's words reveal her strong opposition to legalistic understandings of morality. Rather than judge her own behavior against moral rules and societal norms, Sue evaluates her situation as individual and unique. At the same time, it is clear that she is very much concerned with morality, a concern made evident by her reference to adultery and "sin." 

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.

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. 

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 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

I feel that we have returned to Greek joyousness, and have blinded ourselves to sickness and sorrow, and have forgotten what twenty-five centuries have taught the race since their time, as one of your Christminster luminaries says…

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christminster
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude, Sue, and Little Father Time are at the Wessex Agricultural Show, along with Arabella and her husband Cartlett. Jude and Sue seem incredibly happy together, and have even reached a point where they can communicate without speaking. Arabella, meanwhile, has grown to resent Cartlett, and looks on at Jude and Sue with a mix of envy and disdain. In this passage, Sue describes her happiness with Jude, saying that they have "returned to Greek joyousness," meaning that they have managed to conduct their lives with a kind of pagan freedom and joy, free from the constrictions of Victorian social codes and Christian morality. The contrast between Sue and Jude and Arabella and Cartlett supports Sue's view, suggesting that marriage truly does often destroy couples' feelings for one another.

Sue's statement that she and Jude have "forgotten" the lessons of the past twenty-five centuries suggests that they have returned to a more innocent, joyful state of existence. However, Sue's happiness seems almost too good to last, as the rest of the narrative will prove. Although it may indeed be the case that people's lives are happier without marriage and other legalistic social customs, the novel also shows how difficult––even impossible––it is to live against the dominant norms of one's era. 

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

“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

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.