Portrayal of Women Characters in Jude The Obscure

Also Read

      Different types of women. If we closely study Hardy's women characters we can gather many interesting facts about how Hardy proceeds to describe his women characters. Many of them are originally vain and fickle but some like Bathsheba and Ethelberta turn into resourceful and enduring types of mature women. The novels of Hardy produced during the eighties had many women of average intelligence portrayed of whom Anne, Tabitha, etc. can be included among women of naive characteristics. Eustacia, Tess, and Arabella are highly sexy and sensuous in their temperament. Lucetta, Sue, Marcia, etc. can be considered Hedonists tending to be neurotic. Marty and Tess are pictured to us as models of pure women.

      Hardy's insight into feminine mannerisms. Hardy's earlier novels show clearly what a wonderful knowledge and insight he had into the coquettes and peculiar mannerisms of women. The later novels delve into feminine motives emotional disturbances and the like. Some of his novels make us clearly understand how feminine nervous temperament gets ramified. One thing we may note here is that based on the few women he describes he had made many generalized statements about all the women of the world. If the reader has adequate sympathy he can fully appreciate that Hardy exercised cool observation of women as fascinating objects of reflection before giving us the portraits of Eustacia, Tess, etc. Many of his women's creations show more character than personality. In the creation of Sue Bridehead, we find personality and character coinciding. Her mannerisms and mobile features indicate the nervous disorders she is subject to.

      Hardy’s description of young ladies. There is no ambiguity in the description of young women by Hardy. But his description of Sue Bridehead requires serious interpretation by a critic with psychological training. Hardy has borrowed much from his earlier books while describing women characters in his later works. This is an unconscious borrowing no doubt. Some peculiar traits might not have been emphasized or developed adequately in the heroine of a previous novel. Such things are carried out by him in his later works, sometimes with overemphasis; courage, resourcefulness, vivacity, and other sterling qualities are portrayed in some women characters. Urban corruptness and rural innocence are contrasted with genuine skill. Some women characters are loaded with over sensuous voluptuousness and some with intrinsic purity, hard-working nature absence of selfishness.

      Arabella. Arabella is simple, uneducated, and sensuous with a great deal of common sense and practical skill. Marriage is viewed by her more as a means of social security and economic well-being than as a safe ground for sensuous activities. If Arabella represents profane love Sue can be said to typify sacred and romantic affection. Arabella is consistent in her behavior throughout being coarse and brutish from the beginning till the end. All is fair in love and war seems to be her philosophy of life. She does not view sympathetically Jude's intellectual aspirations. There is no trace of enduring spiritual affinity in Arabella's case. She is capable of every kind of baseness and is prone to scheming for the sake of gaining something out of nothing.

      The intelligent Sue. Sue is pictured as intelligent, reasonable, and rationalistic in outlook. Her admiration for pagan thought and institutions makes her bold in her dealings with traditional customs and manners. Her opinion about various things held sacred by others speaks much for her keen insight into the development of unorthodox viewpoints. In her opinion, the external peace and grandeur cannot obviate machinations of injustice narrow-mindedness and prejudiced outlook. Her curious “unconsciousness of gender” may baffle us and it is this that leads her and Jude in o disaster. The contrast in her characteristic behavior sometimes cruel and ruthless and sometimes kind and considerate is bewildering.

      No one can account for her initial readiness to marry Phillotson and at the same time insistence on its non-sexual characteristics. She has no compunction to live with Jude without a formal marriage. Intellectually she is conscious of her duty and obligation but on being faced with emotional problems she loses touch with everything good and useful. She is moved into action by affection for Jude, jealousy of Arabella, and repulsive feelings for Phillotson. The domestic tragedy of the death of her children unnerves her utterly and she stages a volte-face.

      Arabella is very evidently the reverse of the ‘divine’ Sue and a symbol of those base qualities of lustfulness that Jude fears he possesses. Her name suggests that ‘instinct towards artificiality which is in her blood: decent country girls are Tess, Anny, or Marty. Her family name twists the knife in Jude's ruined ambitions since she is a ‘Don(n)’ like the teachers in colleges. Hardy cannot resist piling up the evidence against her: she is ‘not worth a great deal as a specimen of womankind’ her word is ‘untrustworthy’, and she has ‘no more sympathy than a tigress’ with Jude or anybody else. Even her looks are criticized; she begins as ‘a fine dark-eyed girl, but is soon dismissed as a complete and substantial female animal’, becomes ‘fleshy’ and ‘frowsy’ in her life of gin-selling and amateur prostitution, and finally is spoken of as a side of bacon sold by her father (‘a little bit thick in the flitch’). She is not only a very bad woman in an individual way but she brings with her echoes of the ancient enchantress Circe in the Greek literature Jude reads, who turned men into pigs by offering them liquor and sex. Hardy has a Shakespearean echo in mind as well; Arabella urging Jude to use the knife on his poor ‘fellow-mortal’, the pig, is very like the wicked Lady Macbeth offering her husband a dagger to kill his guest, King Duncan. The case against Arabella seems complete, but Hardy turns the tables on us by showing that in many ways she resembles Sue and Jude. Like her husband she wants to ‘improve her circumstances and lead a genteel life; though she intends to do it by running a gin-shop rather than learning Greek. She can be very generous when it suits her, and she refuses to be a ‘creeping hypocrite’ in her pleasures, just as Jude refuses the appearance of respectability. Like Sue, Arabella turns to religion as a cure for bereavement and melancholy but she gives it up after a comically brief flirtation with self-denial. Her open greed and self-interest are a coarse reproach to the refinement of the lovers, whom she sees as a pair of fools. She cuts through moral ambiguities with a meat-cleaver: ‘‘He’ll shakedown, they always do.” ‘Decency is decency, any hour of the twenty-four’. ‘Life with a man is more business-like after....and money-matters work better.’ This is not in keeping with Hardy’s moral sensitivity, but it is necessary and refreshing after the paralyzed decencies of Sue and Jude. Arabella is much needed comic relief, with her optional dimples and her tail of false hair flung over the looking-glass, her imaginary respectability as the bigamous wife of a publican, and her virtuous rejection of Sue. If we have the heart for such things her visit of condolence to her former husband after the death of her child is cruelly funny. Arabella is splendidly, laughably, horribly wicked, like the villain in the Christmas mummers’ plays, burlesque country dramas of the battle between good and evil that Hardy watched in his boyhood, and her coarse worldly wisdom counterbalances the sensitivity of Jude and Sue.

      Conclusion. Sue and Arabella are unforgettable characters for different reasons. Hardy has shown a great deal of subtlety in the creation of Sue as an emancipated “New Woman”. Though abnormal in her actions and behavior Sue is frank. She does not act against her convictions. She gains the sympathy of the reader despite all her inconsistencies.

Previous Post Next Post