Structural Weaknesses in Plot Construction: Jude The Obscure

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      The main purpose of Jude the Obscure is to portray a few abnormal characters with their obsession and whims, frustrated aims and ambitions and struggles of the spirit with the crooked cravings of the flesh. Only two men and two women are dealt with mainly in the course of the entire novel, viz., Phillotson and Jude, Sue and Arabella. How their activities affect the other's lives, how they unwittingly or otherwise influence and mould the destiny of one another is described with superb skill.

      Jude’s guilty conscience. A kind of guilty conscience makes Jude say of himself that he had been the seducer of Sue. He voluntarily approaches Sue with a view to have a romantic contact with her. He gets encouragement from her but is thwarted in his enthusiasm by the stipulation of Sue that he should not have any physical contact with her of intimate nature. Sue then parries Phillotson with the same stipulation to him also. Later on Jude become sucessful in persuading Sue to live with him without the previous precondition of non-sexual intimacies. Phillotson divorces Sue but Sue is adamant and does not go through any formal wedding ceremony. They live the full life of wedded intimacy without the ceremonial formality and beget children.

      Sue’s subconscious mind retaliates. Jude's action was not actually perceived as any betrayal by Sue but her subconscious mind feels it so and retaliates in the same subtle way at first by denying Jude the bliss of physical intimacy. Thereafter she surrenders herself physically more or less in the manner of cutting the nose to spite tbe face. Here also we have the same subtle way of working. The immediate provocation was the anticipated fear in the mind of Sue that Jude may fall a victim to the seductive allurements of Arabella. Jude betrays himself by his cessation of intellectual pursuits in favour of the sensual, first with Arabella and then with Sue. Sue then becomes disgusted with life when her children were hanged by Father Time. She supposes that these deaths were the divine punishment on her for having violated the sanctity of her marriage with Phillotson whom she marries once again without any stipulation regarding physical contacts. In this way also the subconscious mind of Sue has its own revenge on Jude.

      Lack of sweetness and light. The city of Christminster famous for its religiosity and intellectual ardour betrays itself in so far as it miserably falls and fails in its fulfilment of its own laudable goal. Mere bookish knowledge will not endow anyone with real enlightenment and humane qualities. While dying, Jude becomes aware that Christminster is celebrating the Remembrance Day with processions and jovial clamour.

      With the theme as mentioned before in front of him, Hardy uses his authorial skill and literary craftsmanship and has given the world a fine novel with an excellent structure.

      Structural symmetry. Hardy has been successful in giving a sort of structural symmetry as we usually find in well written plays to this novel also which is principally concerned with only four leading characters. The author of a novel is a liberty to converse with the readers unlike the playwright who cannot freely contact the audience. The playwright must utilise his characters as his medium. What the characters speak and what they do should be the sole basis for the audience to judge their dramatic worth. But in a novel the author can freely indulge in sermonizing, eulogising or assessing the intrinsic worth of his creations in his own words. In Jude the Obscure Hardy behaves more like a dramatist than a novelist. The characters speak to us and inform us many things through their own activities, reactions and behavioural patterns.

      The functional character of the dialogues. The characters have a coherent and intimate interdependence for the proper development of the main plot. Even the minor characters can be noticed as thoroughly integrated and all speeches exhibit their functional characteristics. Different characters are created with remarkable imagination to portray the main contrasts in the individual idiosyncrasies. Arabella is over-sexual, coarse and extremely vulgar. Sue is her antithesis. Their speeches are highly suited for the difference in their temperament. The minor characters Aunt Drusilla and Mrs. Edlin exhibit a sort of rustic simplicity without any coarseness or vulgarity.

      Compact and well-knit. The craftsman-like skill of Hardy in moulding the story into a well-knit compact unit is highly remarkable. There is no attempt to increase the descriptive content of the novel by deviations and digressions. The smooth progress of the original story has not been marred or complicated by inner stories and subplots. The concentration on the principal characters is scrupulously adhered to in order to sustain the readers’ interest without any spiritless flagging. The moving episodes and poignant descriptions contribute much in heightening the curiosity of the avid reader.

      Intellectual and social chaos. Hardy makes Jude remark as follows— “Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance, which enlarge the views of most men narrow the views of women almost invariably”. Some many not readily subscribe to this attitude. Some may criticise it altogether. But Hardy organises his novel around this central idea. The sufferings the different character undergo affect them terribly and compel them to change their attitude thoroughly. Whether their change is narrowing down or enlarging further is a question from a different angle. Sue for example was changed into a God-fearing religious woman from an utterly irresponsible pagan like atheist. Jude sees this as narrowing down of attitude and views. To others it may be a broadening of views. Jude himself lost faith in religion and interest in intellectual pursuits. Whatever this may be it cannot be called enlarging of views. The changes in Phillotson also were very remarkable. From a conventional schoolmaster he becomes utterly unconventional and allows his wife to live with another man. After some time he gives permission to her to come back to him and simply becomes contented when she has no objection to intimate physical contact with him. Whether we sho ild call this expanded broad-mindedness or insensitive callousness with a vengeance is a different matter. Hardy has painted everything on a broad canvas. There is restless disquietude there with spiritual and intellectual disruption. The chaos brought about by the characters themselves through their inadvertence or undue obsession with regard to certain whimsical notions, takes them along with it and ultimately leaves them in the lurch.

      Alternation of happy cheer and desperate gloom. No character is happy and cheerful throughout. All do try desperately for the achievement of happiness and fail miserably either through their inherent weakness or through the adverse onslaught of sections of society opposed to them for one reason or the other. They do enjoy now and then but the joy and gloom are shortlived. This is what we can expect in our worldly life. Persons born with silver spoons in their mouths are found groaning for want of even a wooden toothpick. That is the way of the world. Hardy may not have had any intention to depict the philosophical aspect of this question but in effect the novel purports to convey the evanescent nature of mundane happiness and pleasure. In the novel there are many episodes with promises of happiness for Jude and Sue but unfortunately Arabella, Father Time etc. act as foreshadows of unhappiness and gloom portending inevitable disaster. In all probability Hardy had all sorts of contradictions and diametrically opposed points of view in his scheme. Sue was playing with pagan statuettes when Jude comes into contact with her with his enthusiasm for an ecclesiastical career. The cab driver kicks the horse in the belly at the very gates of a college in the most religious and educational city, sexual life within and without marriage formalities. The various whims and fancies of Sue are palpable examples of contradictions and contrasts.

      Symbolic commentary. The subjective chaotic state of the leading characters is commented upon and externalised by their rootless nomadic life of Jude and Sue with their children who were unable to get permanent accommodation anywhere. Their moving round through featureless towns and villages can be regarded as a symbolic commentary on the subjective, turbulently chaotic state of the couple. Many small towns and villages are mentioned with distorted names. The restlessness of the individuals is deliberately hinted at by the frequent transits. In short, we can say that the artificial melodramatic and sensational elements in the novel Jude the Obscure form an integral part to strengthen the structural base to a large extent.

      Gradual changes leading to a particular result. A number of significant movements, though individually of an isolated character, yet cumulatively contributing to the development of the themes and revealing the central one perceptibly give this novel a completeness possible only through a grand conception. The gradual changes in the various interconnecting links lead to the particular result of the revelation of the plot in its ultimate perfection.

      A minor defect in the design. In very respect the novel Jude the Obscure can be considered perfect in its details of plot construction and character delineation. A number of chance occurrings and coincidences described in the novel do not adversely affect the convincing character nor do they mar the beauty and reader appeal of the novel. These chances act like stickers and fixers in the case of the pictures in an album. They are necessary to give a sort of permanency to the entire structure of the edifice. The minor defect is the creation of “Father Time”. However precocious a child may be it is highly unconvincing that a child in the early teens should be so mature as to preplan the murder of his step-brothers and his own suicide. Homicidal tendency and man-slaughter on sudden provocation or accidental hurling of missiles is understandable. This character gives a nightmarish element in the story but the concept is fantastically preposterous. There are abnormal children with positive and negative characteristics and we cannot rule out the existence of “Father Time” in the world but it is beyond our experience so far.

      Conclusion. Some of the excellences and the quality of remarkable portrayal of indelible scenery with poetic skill which we have been observing in Hardy’s previous novels may be missing in this novel. Yet his craftsmanship is as usual evident in this novel as well. Every episode portrayed reveal unerringly the distinct quality of the novelist, the deliberation of conscious art.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Write a critical note on the structure of Jude the Obscure pointing out weaknesses in plot construction.

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