Realistic Quality of Characterization in Jude the Obscure

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      Characters in an evolutionary process. Character portrayal is an essential factor in the workshop of any good novelist. Without expansive knowledge and deeply penetrating insight into human nature, no novelist can attain any success in this venture. Hardy has demonstrated through his numerous novels how wide-ranged is his understanding and how penetrating his acumen is. Unlike in other novels in Jude, the Obscure Hardy has chosen some characters for portraying the gradual changes in their outlook as a result of circumstances and their reaction to the attitudes of other members of the society. They are neither static nor fixed. The masterly skill exhibited by Hardy in the delineation of characters is worthy of a detailed analysis.

      Uncommon events but not character. Till the time of writing Jude the Obscure, Hardy was of the view that there can be uncommonness in the events but not in the characters. He wanted to avoid the portrayal of human nature as abnormal. However, it is through abnormal characters that a successful novelist manages to sustain the readers’ interest continuously. Can any commonplace average person provide ample grist to the mill of a popular novelist? The leading characters Jude, Sue, Phillotson, and Arabella have traits of abnormality. However, in one sense they are all normal—they belong to an ordinary common social class.

      Complex but convincing. The exceptionally complex and abnormal attitudes and behavior of Phillotson, Jule, and Sue may not be very common in society but not impossible. Though naturally simple and sober, Phillotson reacts rather uncommonly when he is faced with an uncommon event. At the age of forty-five, he gets the consent of a girl who might have been his daughter if everything had been normal in his life, to marry him after a couple of years. The practical man begins saying money for a well-secured wedded bliss. The description by Hardy is very realistic: “The schoolmasters was an unhealthy looking old fashioned face rendered more old fashioned by his style of shaving”. The marriage between Phillotson and Sue goes only to the legal extent. Sue denies him physical intimacy and Phillotson evinces a ready consent just for the pleasure of the general satisfaction that he too is married. He then startles everyone by allowing Sue to live with Jude. Later on, when she comes back to him he receives her and enjoys her flesh as well, too late in his life. One may call his acceptance of Sue physically a weakness, for he must be aware of her innate reluctance. But the weakness only makes him human. Thus the character of Phillotson as one oscillating between the conventional and unconventional types is portrayed with remarkable skill. He is a man of the great courage of conviction but not rigid enough to be a fanatic bigot. He openly defies the orders of the School Committee though he has to choose poverty and unemployment. He never stoops to submit to social pressures. Though his behavior on these different occasions can be termed perverse from a strict convention! point of view, it was his full conviction that the incompatibility of temperaments between Sue and himself warrants such a step. He is intelligent enough to compare Jude and Sue to Shelleyan characters. Thus Phillotson is portrayed with a remarkable individuality of his own.

      Helpless orphan, groaning with unfulfilled aims and dying prematurely. The character of Jude is portrayed as one having to put up a great struggle for keeping his body and soul together ever since his eleventh year. When he dies he is hardly thirty. What did he achieve in the course of these nineteen years of struggle, except frustrated ambition, stifled hopes, and blighted sensuous craving? Jude is endowed with certain good qualities such as kindheartedness towards animals and birds, as evidenced by his permitting the birds to peck at the grains he was supposed to protect. His sensuality is normal. His getting addicted to liquor due to frustrated desire is also not abnormal. His character is also portrayed as changing frequently. Some of the good traits do develop further but altogether there is a downward decline in other things such as love of knowledge and learning.

      The progress or regress happens along a predictable line to be sure, but some unexpected events bring about radical changes in his outlook and view of life. He shows some amount of fortitude when he becomes thwarted in his eagerness to pursue a career of academic and intellectual efforts. He takes up the career of a stonemason. The callous tyranny of social convention may have been the initial cause for his frustration but he does not sustain the fortitude till the end. He bows before the powerful impact of the ruthless leaders of the society who never desire to entrust weaklings with the tasks of building up a noble strong society of stable welfare and progress. The abnormal temperament of Sue gives him a sensuous satisfaction for a short while and he begets children. The death of these at the hands of Father Time, his reaction through Arabella the aggressive, coarse, and vulgar woman who led him astray early in his life, affects Sue adversely and through that, his own life becomes a final wreck. The weakness for liquor leads him to a final breakdown in health and ultimate death. Jude is a character whom we cannot loathe for the ugly traits of his character nor can we admire him for his good qualities. At the same time, he is an unforgettable character who sticks to our memory for many days after we have set down the book after our perusal.

      Bodiless creature sans animal passion. Sue is a very peculiar woman in the portraying of whom Hardy has shown all the psychological insight that he possesses. Here is the first fiction portrayal of the ‘New Woman’ of the movement for woman's emancipation. Her sexlessness or rather lack of animal craving of the flesh is unique. In her opinion, one cannot say that all or almost all women do like marriage for the physical pleasure it accords. They enter matrimony only for the dignity it is assumed to confer. Sue is portrayed as a mass of contradictions with a baffling complexity. She can be justifiably called an enigma with a great deal of irrational capriciousness. Originally she is portrayed as unorthodox, skeptical, and too intellectual a woman. Later on, the death of the children and adverse treatment from society at large transforms her into an orthodox, conventional, sober woman ready to submit her body to one whom she has married despite the great disparity in the ages. Some may view her volte-face as another example of the perverseness she possesses. No definition or classification is possible for a woman of the type of Sue. Her position is unique. She is an antithesis of Arabella the morbidly coarse type of vulgar woman, as well as Tess—a typical pure woman strictly moral in her ideas and conduct.

      The portrayal of Arabella. There is something peculiarly attractive, alluring, and seductive in this woman who exerts a great charming influence on Jude. Her principal aim in life is economic security for social survival. Whether Jude, the man in Australia, or Dr. Vilbert it is enough if she has someone ready at hand. She is willing to use her female charm and coquetry to rope him in. She is neither steadfast nor loyal to anyone. On the whole, she is a thoroughly living model of an average type of woman of the low class.

      Delineation of the minor characters. Hardy does not dismiss even his minor characters with a cursory description. Dr. Vilbert the quack who earns a lot with his spurious medicines has several living proto-types in the world. Aunt Drusilla is obsessed with the idea that no Fawley can be successfully married. She is a typical old maid harsh without but sympathetic within. Mrs. Edlin is an uninhibited gossipy old woman of strong common sense and worldly wisdom. These two old women provide some humor in the novel.

      Father Time: not convincing. Father Time is a character who rouses our curiosity but does not convince us as a likely or probable living boy. However mature he might have been bodily (a boy with an octogenarian face) he cannot be considered mentally matured to pre-plan two murders and a suicide. Homicidal tendency against grave provocation is understandable but not such cold-blooded preplanned murder. Hardy can be considered less successful in the creation of Father Time.

      Conclusion. Hardy's art of characterization is based on his insight into human nature. He can “living” characters, individualized wherever necessary. The characters in Jude the Obscure are “rounded”, i.e., they are complex in temperament and motivation. This is true of the main characters. In this novel, Hardy has moved away from the “fixed” mode of characterization; he shows psychological development. Jude by the end of the novel has gained a painful maturity of view, while tragedy has narrowed Sue's views. All through, Hardy shows his skill of evoking sympathy for his characters. Except for Father Time, we may say, Hardy's art of characterization is masterly in Jude the Obscure.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Write a short note on the range, technique, and realistic quality of Hardy’s characterization as exemplified in Jude the Obscure.


How successful is Hardy’s portrayal of the character in Jude the Obscure? Give an analytical answer.

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