Aristotelian qualities might be found in Jude the Obscure

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      Pessimistic and sombre. Although it is a fact that Jude the Obscure is the starkest and most sombre of all the novels of Hardy and that the pessimistic outlook on life is too patent to produce in the long run relief and a feeling of exaltation in the readers, yet many critics hope that the cathartic effect of a genuine tragedy as adumbrated by Aristotle is also possible from a perusal of this novel. Almost all the characters of Hardy are portrayed as living a wretched and miserable life. The novelist seems to have specialized in the delineation of the characters of persons who are victims of grimness of tragic life, undergoing the ordeal with stoic courage. Many, like Jude in this novel, ultimately suffer failure and become utterly frustrated beyond redemption. Horror after horror, agony upon agony is piled upon them by the author. It is possible to argue that the excessively depressing atmosphere created in it is beyond the scope of a genuine tragedy of Aristotelian conception. So the production of the feelings of relief and exaltation is somewhat hampered. Feelings of pity and fear should be aroused in the proper manner to make the catharsis genuinely felt which becomes rather obstructed when the aims of the tragedy are defeated by the excitement of too much of horror.

      Violation of law as the cause of grief. Why does Jude suffer? He suffers because he tries to violate laws both natural and man-made. The natural law calls for the suppression of will to instinct, and spirits to the flesh. Jude is no contender against this law. He submits to the cravings of the flesh and becomes oblivious of the spiritual and intellectual uplift. The will is over-powered by the wayward instinct. The aspiration of higher learning is smothered by the sexual compulsion. This acts as a trap for Jude wherein he suffers all through his life. Succumbing to the natural law he has to succumb to the social law of “marriage” to the “wronged” woman. He fails in his struggle with his grammar books. He does not gain access to the university. In collaboration with Sue, he breaks the social law of conformity to certain norms of behaviour. The marriage law is flouted. Hence they suffer ostracism. Only too late in his life does Jude realize that any attempt to follow the domineering dictates of instinct cannot but lead to tragedy. Similarly, too forced and adaptation of human instinct to the conventional moulds also leads to great misery.

      Blind working of laws. All laws function in a matter-of-fact way blind to extenuating circumstances. The individual is caught in his act of violation and condemned ruthlessly, despite the why and wherefore of the actions and considerations of mercy or excuse. Jude is seen in a drunken disorderly state and so condemned. Who has the time to go into its details that it was due to his frustration. Jude and Sue are seen living together out of wedlock. Social law is violated and they cannot escape the punishment. Who cares for their unique and exalted motives? This violation of laws causes untold suffering.

      Hero—society communion wanting. Jude and Sue do not represent genuine heroes and heroines. Jude is an outside gatecrashing into the precincts of the social framework. Sue takes pride in not being an adjunct of the society. Both of them do not get reconciled with the vast area of society. Hence although there is a tragic experience (death, depression, frustration, non-realization of ambitions, etc.) the experience so obtained is not sublimated into a genuine aesthetic appreciation through the feeling of catharsis. Hardy runs riot with gloomy thoughts taking them to pessimistic conclusions. He does not hesitate to wreck the lives of his heroes and heroines and to consign them even to damnation. He accuses every one for the wretched lives of his creations. He arraigns and attacks all the forces of the Established Order and points the accusing finger at them for indulging in a combined conspiracy to wreck human happiness. But to what result? The hero does not identify himself with the society; he remains an outsider. There is no reconciliation which would have resulted in the transformation of this novel into a genuine tragedy of traditional significance. Not just the individual but the whole cosmos is at fault.

      Hardy’s pessimism from another angle. What is the ultimate aim of Hardy in writing such an agonizing tale? He want the readers to pause and reflect more. He does not want them to be merely contented with the entertainment value of the novel. He paints the picture of an ordinary individual, an average citizen, with a couple of strong points but numerous faults and weaknesses. How these faults and weaknesses could wreck a life is clearly brought out. A reader with an open mind views the characters and their activities with an eye on the social arena as well. If he views thus the whole picture becomes transformed. We will have a genuine tragedy with its full-fledged form. We forget the blunders, violation of laws, etc., of the hero and the heroine and natural compassion gets stirred up within us. The orphan boy of eleven who allows the birds to gobble up the sheaves of com and gets sacked and thrashed as a consequence is no doubt pities by us. But the adult man jilted by a lady, going to commit suicide or, failing therein, drowning his sorrow in a drunken bout may not be pitied by us in the real sense. But we cannot be heartless. We readily react with a sigh of grief and an expression of regret. When we read of the text disappointment of Jude on getting the letter of discouragement from the academician damping the enthusiastic dreams of Jude on the prospects of being a University man, we are naturally moved a feeling akin to pity. Jude's struggle and warfare in the realm of flesh versus spirit also strikes a note of sorrow in our hearts. We find Jude falling headlong into the burning hell of conscious failure both in ambition and love. The drastic step of burning his ethical and theological books may not be condoned by us but neither can we condemn him. When Jude and Sue live a natural life of a wedded pair and are blessed with children, we feel a sense of relief from the gloomy reflection on what society is or what it is not. Again there is a change of situation. Society turns hostile. Its antagonism due to the apparent defiance by the couple of the social laws and taboos forces us to think deeply. We ponder over the pros and cons. We cannot arrive at a firm judgement of either condemning them outright or condoning their abnormal attitude and behaviour.

      Sudden changes and final catastrophe. The novelist continues to give us horrifying details beginning with Father Time hanging his half brothers and himself. The effect on Sue is terrible. She repents for her heretic outlook and defiant attitude and becomes suddenly religious and God-fearing. She leaves Jude and remarries Phillotson believing it to be necessary to atone for her sins. But she only destroys both Jude and herself in the process. The final catastrophe of the death of Jude unattended by anyone of his dear and near is the climax of all these subsequent happenings. These tragic details stir up our emotions. We pity and also fear the circumstances. The gloom is oppressive.

      Phillotson’s dignity and nobility. How far human nature can be dignified and noble in the midst of trials and tribulations is amply demonstrated by Phillotson the only character in the novel with a sober head and too liberal a heart. His magnanimity in allowing his wife Sue to live with her lover is unparalleled in life and fiction though not improbable. He is indeed a highly selfless man capable of great sacrifice without the least inclination to display it.

      Sue’s integrity and readiness for self-sacrifice. Hardy has portrayed Sue as a woman of great integrity though rather unconventional. She was adamant in holding certain opinions opposed to those prevalent among the general public. Later on she does stage a volte-face but the act is human. In the early part of the story she projects herself as an intelligent woman with admirable traits in her character. Later on her reaction to the worst tragedy in her life as a mother is also equally realistic and justifiable. The turn of events may not be to the liking of some or up to the expectation of some others. But there is nothing out of the ordinary or unjustifiable. Her return to Phillotson is in the nature of a martyrdom.

      Jude breaks down but does not bend. Jude is sensuous. He is inebriate. Hence he suffers certain setbacks in his life. He becomes frustrated. He cannot fulfil the major aims in his life. But we cannot but admire Jude for displaying certain sterling qualities. He does not become moody and morose when the expected results do not come up. When Sue denies him the pleasure and comfort of physically consummating their living together under the same roof, he shows some self-restraint which he was not earlier capable of when faced with the seductive charms and allurements of Arabella. He dies broken-hearted no doubt but his backbone does not bend.

      Conclusion. Thus we can conclude that Jude the Obscure does bring about a catharsis of our feelings through the misfortunes and miseries endured by three people endowed with a redeeming nobility of spirit. Mere suffering will evoke pity and gruesome incidents fear but a relief and exaltation of the spirit can be achieved only if the sufferes show dignity and nobility.

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