“Character is not the only cause of the tragedy” in Jude the Obscure

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      There is tragedy of diverse nature in the story of Jude. On a simple and physical level, the story ends in Jude's premature death and so it is tragic. On the emotional level, there is frustration of unfulfilled aims in regard to the three main characters in the novel, viz. Jude, Phillotson and Sue; thus it is a tragedy of unrealised aspirations.

      Cause of tragedy. It is very difficult to pinpoint the real cause of the tragedy in the story. Many causes of complex and complicated nature are cumulatively responsible for the tragic happenings. Jude the Obscure embodies several causes of tragedy—not only character, but fate (in which heredity, chance and coincidence have their parts) and society in the form of conventions and rigid code of conduct, etc.

      Characters as cause. Jude the main character in the story is the person who suffers the most in the story. Can we say that his peculiar character is wholly responsible for the overwhelming tragedy that befalls him? May be Jude is ambitious. He is eager to study. The author introduces him as a boy very enthusiastic in continuing his studies. But he has hundreds of hurdles to overcome in the process of his attempts to realize his ambition. Ambition and eagerness alone cannot carry a man very far along his path to glory. The sparrow may have the laudable ambition to soar very far into the firmament like an eagle but has it the natural adjuncts necessary for such a feat? Jude’s humble origin, his poverty and the social set-up act as serious stumbling blocks as the very outset. His ambition to become a Christminster Scholar could not materialise to a large extent because the class system prevailing then in England did not care to provide him with the opportunities and facilities for the realisation of his cherished desires.

      Jude’s sensual nature. But the tragedy is not wholly due to society. What is acquired easily cannot be retained long. Goals reached after a great deal of struggle can give us lasting pleasure and satisfaction. But the struggle is a must. In that struggle the weak man drops out. That is the case of the Jude. If only he had struggled tenaciously for some time he might have achieved some success. But alas! his innate sensuality was the cause of his downfall. His two weaknesses are wine and women. Arabella overwhelmed him with her unvoiced call. Jude's sensuality cannot resist the call. For some time Jude prefers the pleasures of the flesh offered by Arabella to his intellectual pursuits. He becomes utterly oblivious of his own intellectual aims.

      Failure of marriage with Arabella. The unhappy Jude fails in his sensuous pursuits as well, because the girl emigrates to Australia. Though this was a failure it had been a blessing in disguise because he thought of resuming his studies. His intellectual ambitions seem to revive. But the love for Sue casts a greater spell upon him. Sue marries Phillotson and Jude becomes doubly frustrated. His passionate yearning of the love of Sue compels him to set fire to his ethical and theological books. His aspiration for a clerical career as a licentiate becomes thwarted in the same manner as his aspiration for academical proficiency. Jude's craving for the warmth and thrill of feminine flesh prove his undoing in the satisfactory fulfilment of his intehecual aims.

      Tragedy of Sue. The role of character in the tragic frustration of Sue's aspirations is also equally noteworthy. In a way Jude’s tragedy is also due to Sue’s character which is the main casuse of the frustration of his desire to achieve a satisfactory relationship with her. An intelligent girl with adequate feminine charm and beauty, Sue's might have been a life of unruffled and unimpeded course of great pleasure. But somehow it took a tragic turn. Her sexual frigidity may have been the cause. Capricious and irrational she denies sexual pleasure to the Christminster undergraduate who finally dies. She marries Phillotson and denies him sexual pleasure. Thanks to the magnanimity of Phillotson she lives with Jude in an unconventional way, but does not cohabit with him contrary to the expectations of everyone concerned. Thus she causes great mental anguish to all the three men who loved her. It is jealousy of Arabella which finally make her submit physically to Jude and she gives birth to their children, thus enjoying the pleasures of life for a brief period. The unconventional character of the life of Jude and Sue angers society. They face social ostracism. The death of the children causes a mental somersault in the case of Sue. All her inconsistencies, capriciousness and perversity become so virulent that she deserts Jude and goes back to Phillotson and submits to him physically as penance though by that time she had become just a living corpse. The disaster which could have brought Jude and Sue closer sunders them apart irretrievably instead. Sue's character will not allow happiness.

      Social conventions and religious taboos. Jude and Sue could have lived a peaceful pleasant life with the cooperation and blessing of the leaders of the society if only they had observed the conventions regarding matrimony. Sue realises the truth of this rather very late. She had been adamant before, thanks to her advanced and progressive views. She underestimated the power that orthodox conventions and beliefs could wield but after the tragic death of her children she felt that her children born out of wedlock were all sinbegotten. She saw her tragedy as the punishment meted out her by God Himself for her sinful life of pleasure with Jude. Thus we see character and society conniving at tragedy.

      Phillotson’s tragedy. A sober clear-headed teacher, Phillotson is pictured by the novelist as a sufferer because of his own magnanimity. Originally conventional in his outlook, Phillotson becomes unconventional; in his magnanimity he permits Sue to go and live with her lover Jude despite the fact that Sue was his own wedded wife. This is a faulty step of Phillotson in the eyes of society and he had to pay a heavy price for it. He loses his job and becomes the victims of social ostracism and censure. Unlike Jude, Phillotson cannot be called weak in character and calibre. His suffering is more due to the callousness of society then to any innate frailty. Indeed, his courage is admirable. Ultimately Sue returns to him and dedicates her body and soul to him. But Phillotson could not have enjoyed much the living corpse that she had become by then.

      Father Time’s role in the tragedy: the hand of fate. In our analysis so far we could point out that the innate character of the persons involved was responsible for their tragedy although social conventions and the tyranny of institutions had also their own contributions to make. Fate, chance and coincidence also are seen in this novel contributing their own mite to the tragic and sombre gloom that envelopes the characters in the story. It is through Father Time, the boy. with an octogenarian face, that Fate plays havoc in this novel. The very abnormality and extraordinarily freakish nature of this morbid child-cum-adult being, indicates how far supernatural power can become inimical to man in his pursuit of happiness. Fate has probably selected her step-son to wreck Sue’s happiness. Father Time innocently thinks that he himself and the two other children were mere burdens to their parents. Numerous children may cause embarrassment and hence unhappiness to their parents. With this thought uppermost in his mind the boy kills the other children and hangs himself. Fate thus appears to have worked in such a manner as to stifle and smother all desires in human being to live. It is Father Time’s action that finally and irrevocably causes the break between Sue and Jude, ultimately putting paid to Jude’s aspiration for happiness.

      Course of the family: role of heredity. It appears that there is a curse running in the Fawley family that wedlock has always been a source of misfortune Aunt Drusilla warns Jude and Sue against marrying. Her sensible advice should have been followed by the pair but unfortunately they thought that the curse was applicable only to a ‘legal’ marriage and not to a clandestine relationship against all strictures of the society. But the decision not to many in the conventional way has disastrous results. If only they had married there would have been, no call for Sue’s terrible repentance and penance.

      Conclusion. Many causes that cannot be disentangled have brought about the tragedy in the novel Jude the Obscure. One cannot isolate a single factor as causing the tragedy, for the mystery of life is too complex to be reduced to simple causes and effect.

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