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Literature Study GuidesJude The ObscurePart 4 Chapters 1 3 Summary

Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 4, Chapters 1–3 (At Shaston) | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 1

Jude enters Shaston late in the afternoon and waits for Sue in her empty classroom. He is picking out the keys of the hymn he likes so much when she enters the room and plays the song for him. They simultaneously clasp hands and then speak on various subjects. The narrator notes a "silent conversation [passed] between their emotions, so perfect was the reciprocity between them." Jude believes they are alike, but Sue says their emotions are similar but their heads are not. At one point Jude tells her not to visit him at a nearby church where he will be working, and when Sue says she thought they would remain friends he says, "I sometimes think you are a flirt." She is upset by his comment although allows for some truth in it. She asks him to leave because it is getting dark and calls him a Joseph, a tragic Don Quixote, and a St. Stephen. Before he goes, he sees her through the window hugging a photograph, believing it is the one he gave her.

Part 4, Chapter 2

Sue writes to Jude and tells him not to come again. He also gets a note from the Widow Edlin saying his aunt is dying. He leaves immediately but arrives at Marygreen too late. He sends a note to Sue, and she arrives for the funeral. Sue confesses she is unhappy in her marriage and physically revolted by her husband. After Sue withdraws her hand from Jude's he claims he has no romantic feelings left for her and mentions he has seen Arabella. He pretends he plans to live with her, just as Sue lives with her husband. Sue continues to talk about her unhappiness—she most resents having to respond to a man whenever he wishes it as a provision of their contract "in a matter whose essence is its voluntariness."

In the middle of the night Jude goes outside to attend to a rabbit caught in a gin trap. The animal is in agony, and Jude cannot bear its suffering. He notices Sue cannot sleep, and Sue confesses her mistake and lack of forethought in marrying Phillotson. Jude boldly confesses his love, says he will gladly renounce his religious doctrines, and asks to help her, but she refuses.

Part 4, Chapter 3

When Jude takes Sue to the train station, they have a moment on the road in which they embrace and kiss passionately, "close and long." Afterward he realizes his priestly vocation is a sham and burns all his religious books, contemplating that his first attempt toward "academical proficiency" was thwarted by a woman as is his second attempt "toward apostleship."

For her part Sue is sorry for being weak and determines to make Jude suffer by not writing to him. Back home Sue can no longer bear sleeping in the same bed with her husband, and Phillotson is shocked to discover the extent of her aversion. She rails against the rules of marriage that make a person miserable and tells Phillotson the reason she married him. She asks if she can leave him or at least sleep apart from him, and he agrees to separate bedrooms.


When Jude finally gets an invitation to Shaston, he and Sue spend their time torturing one another. Jude is angry about the mixed messages he gets from Sue, calling her a flirt. Sue answers him quite honestly when she says some women love being loved, a sentiment that may account for flirtatious behavior when a female has no intention of following through. Their relationship picks up momentum, however, when they meet again in Marygreen at their great-aunt's funeral and Sue reveals the extent of her unhappiness in her marriage.

She talks to Jude, not out of any subterfuge or ulterior motive, but because she is miserable, even desperate; she needs to talk to someone, and Jude is her kindred spirit. While the reader may wonder, especially in the light of what happens in subsequent chapters, whether Sue has consummated her marriage. It seems clear she has—based on a close examination of her confession to Jude. She says, "[B]efore I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew." This statement indicates she had not considered the physical aspect of their relationship, which now she must endure. This is also something Jude has said to himself, at least twice, during the period leading to her marriage. She also comments on the old adage that "what a woman shrinks from—in the early days of her marriage—she shakes down to with comfortable indifference in half a dozen years. But that is much like saying the amputation of a limb is no affliction, since the person gets comfortably accustomed to the use of a wooden leg or arm in the course of time!" She also objects to the "dreadful contract" in which she must be "responsive to this man whenever he wishes."

Not surprisingly, following so much emotional intimacy, Jude confesses his love, and although Sue sends him away, she surrenders to her own feelings on the way to the train station, and she kisses him. After this unspoken avowal of love, and perhaps because of the cathartic release of her feelings of physical aversion she owns up to, she cannot sleep with Phillotson anymore. She asks to leave him or, at the very least, sleep in separate bedrooms. For his part, Jude burns his holy books because he can no longer pretend to follow the tenets of his religion.

Jude is never a hypocrite, and he realizes at this point he is operating well outside the law: "[W]ith a wife living away from him with another husband, and himself in love erratically, the loved one's revolt against her state being possibly on his account, he had sunk to be barely respectable according to regulation views." Life's situations will only worsen for Jude, for he is someone so completely honest and moral in a hypocritical society that claims to value these traits but in fact despises them and crushes those who live according to them and try to live in society at the same time.

In these chapters that focus on the problems of marriage, Hardy uses the gin trap as a symbol of imprisonment and the subjugation an unhappy marriage entails. The trapped animal equates to human suffering in a bad marriage and thwarts hopes of freedom and ambition.

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