“Novel of Graphic Contrasts” Jude The Obscure

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      Striking differences. The comment of Hardy himself on his book viz., “Of course the book is all contrasts”, can be justified in various ways. We find the author bringing together Sue and Jude despite their differences and contrasts as evidenced by Sue's love for heathen gods and Jude’s interest in poring over sacred literature such as Greek Testament. We find contrasting evolutionary changes in the characters; for example, Jude of saintly visions and aspirations becomes a sinner in various ways. Sue who had been originally inclined to paganism turns out to be saintly, orthodox, and conventional. The unbridgeable gulf of differences between the rural atmosphere and urban life is brought out clearly by the author. The mutually opposed characteristics in Jude, namely his aspiration for knowledge as well as his sensualistic proclivities, are also described by Hardy in his inimitable way. The changing old order the advent of a new one and the inevitable clash between the two can also be seen portrayed in the novel.

      New amenities to the common people and their influence in society. The novel spans over a period of hardly more than two decades but the changes that take place during this short period are enormous whether they pertain to the individual idiosyncrasies of the persons described or the environment. As Hardy has explained, “medievalism was as dead as a fern leaf in a lump of coal and other developments were shaping in the world around man”. Thanks to James Watt and George Stevenson the transport system had switched over to the steam power of the railways from the horsepower of the stagecoaches. During the earlier periods, cathedrals and abbeys had been the cynosure of public attention and social attraction. But in the days of Sue, their places had been usurped by Railway Station. The characters evince great interest in the railway journey for business as well as pleasure.

      Structural alterations. The author introduces the environment in the villages as well as the towns by reminding us that old dwelling houses, manors, etc. had been pulled down and that old churches and other monumental landmarks had begun to undergo vital changes. The original buildings had been dismantled and tall new buildings of modern Gothic design had taken their place. The architectural alterations were unfamiliar to the ordinary English layman and the imposing new erections were pieces of evidence of the interference of the hands of a certain obliterator of historic records as Hardy often describes. This striking contrast between the old and the new is repeated frequently by the author.

      Ideological clashes. Jude and Sue move into the society of the different rural towns they chose for staying together like a couple of no conventional curb or restraint. As such they inevitably came into clash with the molders of public opinion, the persons at the helm of affairs in the society. Jude and Sue took pride in the fact that they were fifty years ahead of the people of their time. They openly invited the hostility of the orthodox society by not subjecting themselves to marriage laws, codes, and conventions. There is no wonder that society views them with suspicion and ostracises them. Ultimately Sue bends before the mighty society and Jude breaks down suffering recklessness and ruin. These ideological clashes reveal, as Hardy says, the death agony of an old era and the birth pangs of the new. To these clashes and counter clashes Phillotson the sober schoolmaster also contributes his share. He was most unconventional in the treatment of his wife Sue in as much as he allows her to stay with her lover in the same house without obtaining a legal separation. He too suffers due to this.

      Character-contrasts in Jude and Sue. The emotional affinity between the cousins does not prevent them from having different outlooks in respect of sexual behavior in particular or life in general. While Jude was very sensual Sue did not evince any keen interest in the sexual act. She was practically averse to it but succumbs to Jude only when she becomes jealous of Arabella. Her mental constitution is different from that of Arabella. Another mutually contradictory trait in the characters of Jude and Sue is regarding their attitude towards religion, God, prayer, etc. From an unconventional heterodox pagan-like woman Sue develops into a strictly devout Christian lady whereas Jude exhibits his evolution from a god-fearing religious man into a heretic.

      Jude’s transformation. An orphan brought up by other relatives without any filial affection or enthusiastic kinsmanship, Jude grew up in the rural environment not daring to oppose the views of those around him. He had to share the views and beliefs of the ordinary people around him. He was aware that no one wanted him. Yet some internal ardour and spirit kindled in him some sort of enthusiasm for the pagan classical writers. His religiosity, later on, makes him turn to Christian theology and adherence to daily prayers, etc. It was because of this keen devout attitude that he readily consented to marry Arabella on learning that Arabella had become pregnant due to her physical contact with him. Frustration in his aspirations and companionship with Sue change him thoroughly into an unconventional type of man. He does not feel any compunction in setting fire to the ethical and theological books. There arises in him a revolutionary change of outlook. He had become a skeptically heterodox and unconventional man.

      The transformation of Sue. Sue starts her career in life as an intellectual urban Miss without any sort of conventionality in her social behavior. She moves very closely with an undergraduate young man of Christminster though she does not give up her body to him. This denial of satisfaction drives the young man to suicide but Sue is not at all affected by it. In her relationship with Jude and Phillotson, she behaves similarly but later on yields partially. Writers like Gibbon, Swinburne, etc. encouraged her unconventionality. Though her views and her blunt way of expressing them hurt Jude’s traditional sentiment yet he puts up with all inconveniences therefrom merely for the companionship of Sue. Later on, the ostracism of society and the tragic death of the children affect Sue so much to make her a devout orthodox woman. She becomes philosophically minded so much to eulogize self-abnegation and to decry self-delight. In the view of Jude certain events that enlarged his vision and attitude towards life, laws, customs and dogmas could not operate similarly on Sue. Sue’s transformation from rationalism to one of devout religiosity astonishes us in the same way as it might have astonished the people who knew her. The contrast in Sue's temperament from that of Jude is noteworthy in as much as one is frigid in the matters of sex, while the other sacrifices his intellectual pursuits over sensual ardor.

      The differences between Sue and Arabella. The differences between these two women are conspicuously narrated in the novel. Arabella was a Woman who could not think far beyond the thrill and excitement of sexual intercourse. She is the personification of the claims of the flesh while Sue can be mentioned as the character symbolizing the demand of spirit. Arabella carefully nurtures her physical charms and allurements while Sue exhibits her sexlessness. Arabella can descend to all sorts of vulgarity to promote the chances of sexual intercourse. She throws a pig's pizzle at Jude to draw his attention to her. Later on, she falls clown on the ground by his side and induces him to utilize gestures to have physical contact with her. Sue does not at all crave physical activities in the love play. She had contempt for Arabella for her voluptuousness. The gulf between Sue and Arabella is very vast. Arabella was a woman of rank passions. She was not particular about the person of Jude. When she became sure that Jude could not live long she did not hesitate to turn towards Dr. Vilbert.

      The characteristics of Jude and Sue on different occasions. At the outset, Jude is saintly in his behavior but for his earlier weakness in his relation to Arabella. When Sue comes and lives with him denying him the physical thrill of sensual love Jude bears it stoically. He did not want to be selfish and spoil the high ideals that prompted Sue. Later on, when Sue herself surrenders to him on account of her jealousy with Arabella he accepts that as a gift from her.

      Similarly, in the beginning, Sue behaves like a Voltairean with aggressive radicalism but later on becomes purified into a devout lady accepting the existence of a supreme omnipotent power in the Universe which had meted out to her the punishment for having lived a life of sin with Jude out of wedlock.

      Conclusion. Thus the book Jude the Obscure is a book of contrasts. Hardy bases his novel on the contrast between the real and the ideal, the physical and the spiritual, and the male and the female: these are subdivided into pairs like the flesh and the spirit? marriage and comradeship, poetry and brutish survival, light and darkness, churches, and taverns, colleges and slums, Christianity and paganism, ancient country ways and new inventions. The message is always that these opposites cannot be reconciled and that conflict is inevitable in life. Jude and Sue embody opposite states of mind in the novel, and ironically exchange their attitudes towards the end.

University Questions also can be Answered:

“Jude the Obscure is based upon a series of contrasts of characters, setting and moral qualities.” How does Hardy use such opposites in the construction of his novel?


Would you agree that Jude the Obscure is a “novel of graphic contrasts”?


The “book is all contrasts”. Consider the plot of Jude the Obscure in the light of this statement.

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