“The Tragedy of Unfulfilled Aims”: in Jude The Obscure

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      Introduction. In his preface of the first edition of his novel Jude the Obscure, Hardy says that it attempts to tell without mincing words or a deadly war waged between flesh and spirit and to point the tragedy of unfulfilled aims. The main characters Jude and Sue had many ambitions and aims in their lives but they could not realize them, probably due to their inherent weakness and probably due to a firm lack of encouragement from society.

      Ardor for learning. Jude was eager to learn even during his boyhood. His innate love of knowledge even at the age of eleven when he was a pupil of Mr. Phillotson in the Night School becomes heightened by his parting advice “Read all you can”. The master’s desire to get a university degree from the city of Christminster whetted the pupils’ appetite for further study. He regards the city as “Heavenly Jerusalem” the City of Light and a castle manned by scholarship and religion. Jude had a contemplative turn of mind and his face wore the fixity of a thoughtful child. That he was very eager to pursue the path of learning was evident from the very beginning when he strains his eyes to catch a glimpse of the city of Christminster on the distant horizon. His effort to learn Greek and Latin Grammar from the books sent by Phillotson becomes futile for want of a proper guide. This failure can be called his first disappointment due to the unfulfillment of his intellectual aim.

      Religious study. For three or four years he continued his futile effort. His intellectual ambition next turned to the wish to become a Christian theologian and a Bishop ultimately. This ambition could not be realized because of his marriage with Arabella which accorded him a fresh and wild pleasure in life.

      Disappointment in marriage. His marriage with Arabella did not prove as pleasing as expected because she was an impulsive, impetuous, coarse, and worldly woman of no real charm whatsoever. It was merely a trick of fate that interfered with the smooth flow of his studies, since Arabella kindled his passion to the extent of preventing him from studies but she did not give him any wedded bliss too. Jude's intellectual ambitions received a rube shock. This can be considered Jude's second disappointment in his ambitious aims in life.

      Revival of attempts to learn. After the separation from Arabella Jude desires to learn once again and proceeds to Christminster. Obstacles after obstacles trouble him again. The fact that he hailed from a poor family with no nobility of birth was the first obstacle Jude had to meet within his eager attempts to gain access to the shrine of wisdom and learning. The second obstacle was his sensuality. He began to love his cousin Sue Bridehead. His passion for her subdued his enthusiasm for literary pursuits. At this stage, he thus became the victim of a double attack. A highly distinguished academician dissuaded him from proceeding ahead with his program of higher learning and poured cold water thereon. The letter from that academician was in reply to Jude's letter where he had sought his guidance for furthering his ambition for acquiring higher learning. He had written letters to four more colleagues but none of them cared to reply. The Gather attack on Jude was Sue's involvement with Phillotson. Frustrated very ’much in this manner Jude becomes a veritable drink addict. A great crisis indeed in both the emotional life and intellectual life of Jude! Jude has the hellish experience of a crushing failure in his scholastic ambition as well as a shattering blow for his emotional and sensual attachment to a woman. The tragedy of unfulfilled aims thus reached its third stage.

      Hide-and-seek play of fate. Success and failure played hide-and-seek with Jude. The tantalizing tactics of Fate by giving him hope and despair by turns increase the torment of frustration in Jude. Soon after the disappointment maintained before, there happens a turn of events in the intellectual and emotional life of Jude. Of course, the first one was more of an austere clerical life of religious service than the bookish intellectual life of a mere collegian. A curate suggested to Jude to become a licentiate in the church so that he could be of some social service to the people without the rigorous discipline of university life. As for his emotional happiness, hope was somewhat revived on the receipt of a letter from Sue inviting Jude to Melchester where she was studying in a Training College. Jude takes up lodgings near the hostel and works as a mason repairing certain cathedrals. He spends his spare time reading theological literature for his proposed ecclesiastical life. Sue spends a night in Jude’s lodgings and as a punishment for the crime, she is sentenced to solitary confinement in a room. She escapes from the room and takes shelter in Jude's lodgings. These close contacts were misunderstood by others but Sue and Jude never had any physical contact with each other, though Jude had ample emotional satisfaction, and he bums all religious books after deciding that his passionate yearning for Sue is incompatible with the proposed ecclesiastical training and career.

      He could not develop his intimacy with Sue because she decided to marry Phillotson and it was Fate's ironic twist that Jude himself gave her away in marriage. This can be considered the fourth landmark in the wayward and deviously tortuous turn of events making all aims and ambitions of Jude crumble down piece by piece without any satisfactory fulfillment.

      The fruition of the illicit connection. Jude was compelled to bid goodbye to every sort of intellectual, altruistic, or theological pursuit but his lingering passionate sensuous craving did get adequate push and impetus from Sue. She left Phillotson and came to live with Jude. In the beginning, she avoided sexual contact with Jude and gave him only a close emotional companionship. Compelled by force of circumstances Jude cheerfully passed through this ordeal with some restraint but fortunately, Sue relented later and consented to give him the pleasure of sexual intimacy as well. An illicit affair in the eyes of those who swear by conventional ties and formal religious ceremonies, the peculiar relationship of Jude and Sue reached the stage of generally satisfying fruition of physical love and excitement. This episode marks a stage where there is a semblance of the fulfillment of the aims and ambitions of both Jude and Sue and can be likened to the intensive glittering flare of an oil lamp about to peter out and eventually get extinguished.

      Reluctance to conform to social etiquette. Sue's marriage with Phillotson and that of Jude with Arabella had been legally terminated and declared null and void thanks to the divorce proceedings. If only Jude and Sue had legalized their relationship utilizing a solemn marriage ceremony, society would have accepted them as respectable members. But in Sue's opinion marriage as an institution sinks to the level of a sordid contract, horribly vulgar. She could not understand the patent fact that conformity to social conventions is not an unnecessary restraint put on the individual, but essential and needful support for all individuals irrespective of that individuals' eminence however lofty and distinguished it may be. This distaste of Sue for readily accepting formal marriage ceremony as an essential concomitant of a generally respectable status in society brought a lot of distress and discomfort to the couple that could have been tactfully avoided. This is another stage in the frustrated and unedifying absence of fulfillment in the cases of both Sue and Jude.

      The tragically premature death of the children. Jude's son by Arabella was an abnormally freakish child. Exhibiting signs of precocity, he was nick-named Father Time because he appeared very aged though he was hardly more than a child. He was a boy with an octogenarian face. He was Age masquerading as Juvenility. He was thoughtful, gloomy, and morbid like an aged philosopher with the full conviction that there is nothing worthy of being laughed at or over under the sun. He became disappointed and grief-stricken because there were many children causing misery to themselves and their parents. Therefore he hanged the two half brothers and then himself causing an unexpected turning point in Sue's life. This domestic tragedy can be considered as another stage in the series of frustrating incidents of unfulfilled aims.

      Miserable death of Jude. The death of her children, according, to Sue, was the result of the wrath of heaven for her sinful activities in having lived with Jude and thereby having violated the sacredness of her marriage with Phillotson. She, therefore, left Jude and remarried Phillotson. Jude also married Arabella under duress and under the adverse influence of liquor. Deserted by Sue he became broken-hearted and his health deteriorated ending in his miserable death when Arabella too deserted him. Ironically there was the jubilant shout of joy from the crowd outside celebrating Remembrance Day. This is the last stage in the history of the tragic story of Jude with frustrated aims and ambitions.

      Unfulfilled aims of Sue also. Sue's views were far ahead of her time. Even a century would not have made the society ready to reconcile itself with her heterodox mode of life. The social conditions prevalent than would not have tolerated the kind of life that Sue wanted, to keep herself free from legal obligations. She could not tolerate the legal restraints because of her obsessive feelings that the mutual love of a man and a woman of like-minded nature could not flourish spontaneously in the stifling conditions of such an environment. Thus Arabella is correct in her simple, common sense utterance about Sue “Sue's never found peace since she left Jude's arms and never will again till she's what he is now” —i.e. dead.

      Conclusion. Both Jude and Sue succumb to plenty of frustrations and suffer from unfulfilled aims and ambitions due to various factors inherent in themselves as well as thrust on them from outside. They are Jude's humble origin, sensual weakness, inherent respect for “religion”, Sue's reluctance to conform to the requirements of society, fate, and chance.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Comment on Hardy’s statement that Jude the Obscure “points to the tragedy of unfulfilled aims.”


“Setback to Jude’s intellectual efforts and his inability to realize emotional fulfillment is the main theme of Jude the Obscure. ” Comment.


“The tragedy of unfulfilled aims”—How far is this an apt description of Jude the Obscure.


“In the hell of conscious failure both in ambition and in love”— is that an apt description of Jude’s tragedy?

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