Jude and Sue find lodgings in the Beersheba district, and Jude finds some stonemasonry work. They spend much of their time sitting silently together, both in anguish. Sue declares that they “must conform,” as they have tried to fight God and have failed. Jude accuses himself of being a “seducer,” a man who corrupted Sue’s inherently pure nature.
Hardy seems to want us to see the children’s deaths as a result of society’s failures, but Sue sees the tragedy as punishment from an angry, legalistic God whom she had denied. Jude indulges some Victorian sexism in putting Sue back on a pedestal, claiming all the agency in their fate for himself.
Sue is fixated on the idea that they are being punished, and she decides that she still rightfully belongs to Phillotson, as she and Jude never really married. She feels that she has sinned against God by leaving Phillotson, and her children’s death was the result. In the following weeks Sue grows more obsessively religious and concerned with “mortifying the flesh,” while Jude remains agnostic, feeling he is battling only humanity and blind chance.
When the couple was strong they could stand up against society’s insistence that their relationship was invalid without marriage, but Sue has been weakened and broken by tragedy, and she starts believing the condemnation she has received. The tragic close now begins to fall into place.
Sue says she wishes she could take back all her unorthodox views and formidable intellect. Jude is upset by this, and he asks Sue to marry him if that will satisfy her new fear of the law. Sue refuses. She says that she has started going to church in secret, and she thinks she must leave Jude and return to Phillotson. Jude realizes that he and Sue are switching places in terms of religious belief.
Sue’s loss of spirit and intelligence is as heartbreaking as any tragedy the couple has experienced. Sue turns to religion like Jude turns to alcohol, in a spirit of depression and shame. Sue’s extreme, legalistic version of Christianity shows how even if a religion is correct or useful, it can still be used for negative reasons.
A few days later Arabella visits the couple. She says she visited the children’s graves but didn’t feel comfortable coming to the funeral. Arabella offhandedly describes Sue as Jude’s wife, but Sue denies this and leaves. Arabella tells Jude that her father has returned from Australia and she is living with him now. She departs after a respectable amount of time.
The couple now lacks the strength to stand up to Arabella’s tricks. Jude and Sue both got legal divorces from their spouses, but it is now clear that they can never escape their bad first marriages. Sue was once proud to be unmarried, but now as her guilt pushes her back toward religion she sees her “pagan” relationship as sinful.
Meanwhile Sue has disappeared, and Jude goes to look for her at the church, though it is nighttime. He finds Sue there sobbing and prostrating herself. Sue rebukes Jude for coming, but tells him that she sees the children’s tragedy as a sign and punishment from God – Arabella’s child, who was born in wedlock, killed Sue’s children, who were born out of wedlock.
Little Father Time did act as a symbol of bad marriage and foolish decisions (Jude and Arabella) killing true love and brilliant idealism (Jude and Sue). Sue becomes obsessed with the idea of punishment and strict religious rules, as she needs some order in her world after all the horror (and perhaps to punish herself for her previous ideas by now believing their opposite).
Jude responds by lamenting that the once brilliant, wise Sue has so degraded herself, and he tells her that she is making him hate religion. Jude asks Sue to come home with him, as they are husband and wife according to “Nature’s law.” Sue refuses, saying that they are not married under “Heaven’s law.” Later she laments that the world was not ready for such “pioneers” as they tried to be, but that she is now totally broken and ready to submit to society.
Jude and Sue have switched places in terms of religious belief, and now it is Jude who speaks with Hardy’s skeptical voice. Jude and Sue were indeed “pioneers” not just in the novel but also as characters, as Hardy was almost universally attacked for their unorthodox actions and especially Sue’s ideas.
Jude accuses Sue of never having really loved him. She says she does love him, but she started out merely desiring to be loved by him. She begs Jude to leave her, as she is now convinced that she must return to Phillotson. Jude pleads with Sue but finally relents, saying that their “highest and purest love” is now ruined, and declaring “let the veil of our temple be rent in two.” Jude kisses Sue’s face as she weeps, and then he departs in silence.
Sue now admits that even their pure love began for her as jealousy and vanity. Jude still speaks in Biblical language and now compares both himself and Sue to Christ – when Jesus was crucified, the veil of the temple was torn in two. Sue clearly still loves Jude and has no feelings for Phillotson, but she has now chosen law over emotion.