Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 1, Chapters 1–3 (At Marygreen) | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 1

In Marygreen the recently arrived young schoolmaster, Mr. Phillotson, is now leaving. His pupils will not miss Mr. Phillotson much, except for one, 11-year-old orphan Jude Fawley, an evening pupil. Jude offers to help Phillotson pack and suggests the schoolmaster store his piano at Jude's aunt's fuel house. The schoolmaster is headed to Christminster, a university town. His dream is to graduate from the university there to become a clergyman and make his way more easily in teaching.

Part 1, Chapter 2

Jude's great-aunt, Miss Drusilla Fawley, is a baker who has taken in the orphaned boy. She is not happy to be stuck with Jude and says it might have been better if he had died along with his parents. Jude is currently employed by Farmer Troutham. Miss Fawley tells her neighbors Jude is "crazy for books," just like his cousin Sue, although she hasn't seen that child in years, since her parents separated when Sue was a child. Sue's mother is also Miss Fawley's great-niece.

In Mr. Troutham's fields Jude takes up the tedious duty of sounding a "clacker" to scare off the rooks, which are similar to crows, but after some time he begins to feel sorry for the hungry crows and allows them to eat some of the seed corn. Sneaking up on him, Troutham sees Jude talking to the birds, whereupon he beats and fires the boy. The narrator notes Jude did not like "nature's logic," which required that mercy toward "one set of creatures was cruelty toward another." After Jude confesses to his aunt, he asks about the city of Christminster; she tells him the place is not for people like him.

Part 1, Chapter 3

Having learned the general direction of Christminster, Jude begins walking on the highway toward the city. He passes a ladder set against a barn called the Brown House and climbs up. When the mist clears, he sees the spires and domes of Christminster. He continues to return to the Brown House to attempt to see the city again, which he thinks of as "the heavenly Jerusalem." Returning to the Brown House one day at dusk, hoping to see "the night lights of the city," he looks out and sees a diffuse halo instead. On the way back he passes an old carter who says Christminster is a center for religious learning where people live on a "lofty level" and listen to beautiful music all the time. Jude thinks it is "a city of light ... a castle, manned by scholarship and religion" and a place that "would just suit me."

Analysis

In these first chapters, Hardy announces Jude Fawley's raison d'être, juxtaposing it with his great-aunt's jaundiced view that he ought to have died along with his parents. Jude, crazy for books, takes up his schoolmaster's dream to arrive at the "the heavenly Jerusalem," a "city of light" where scholars study and priests train, and all things will be made clear. Throughout the novel Hardy's tone is sardonic; the narrator's gloss is a bitter commentary on the human predicament as well as a judgment on a hypocritical society governed by a religion in which many don't believe. In Hardy's world God has departed from the scene, and man and woman are left to derive the meaning of their lives as best as they can.

In commenting on Jude's tenderheartedness, in which he suffers because of "nature's logic" of predator and prey, the narrator says, "This weakness of character, as it may be called, suggests that he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before the fall of the curtain upon his unnecessary life should signify that all was well with him again." Jude picks his way through the earthworms, the narrator says, trying not to kill a single one. He is an obscure, or unnoticed, child who will never be known beyond his circle; the indifferent universe will pay him no mind as he suffers and will continue its business after he dies. Of course, all will not be well because Jude will be dead, and the narrator is sarcastically alluding to the idea of life after death, which remains a mystery.

Hardy frequently uses allusion, both direct and indirect. For example, Jude's referring to Christminster as "the heavenly Jerusalem" alludes to the Old and New Testaments, both of which contain several references to New Jerusalem. In the Book of Revelations in the New Testament, the New Jerusalem as heaven on earth is established at the end of the world. Hardy is also alluding to The Pilgrim's Progress, a key Christian allegorical text, in which the pilgrim journeys to the Celestial City (heaven). But Jude's journey will turn out to be an example of dramatic irony and the reverse of Christian's pilgrimage in The Pilgrim's Progress, for only death and disillusion await the unfortunate pilgrim, Jude, in the "celestial city" of Christminster at the end of his journey.

The novel also can be viewed as a perverse bildungsroman. A fixture in English literature by Hardy's time, a bildungsroman features a protagonist who is educated as he journeys through life and attains wisdom and a degree of happiness or satisfaction at the end of the story. But Hardy was among the first to use this format to map the destruction, rather than the edification, of the protagonist. In Jude the Obscure Hardy also alludes to Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution and notion of "survival of the fittest" knocked humankind from its pedestal and showed how much people are at the mercy of natural law, both in their external environment as well as in their heredity. As readers learn more about Jude's heredity, it is clear he is doomed from the start. Although physically fit, his honesty and goodness make him emotionally unfit to survive.

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