Course Hero Logo

Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Jude the Obscure Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 July 2017. Web. 29 May 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, July 20). Jude the Obscure Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Jude the Obscure Study Guide." July 20, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2023.


Course Hero, "Jude the Obscure Study Guide," July 20, 2017, accessed May 29, 2023,

Jude the Obscure | Symbols



Pigs in the novel are symbolic of sexuality at its most basic level. They also represent the coarse behavior of people engaging in acts of sex without the benefit of emotional or psychological connections to a partner or engaging in sex for materialistic motives. Arabella first gets Jude's attention by playfully throwing a pig's penis at him—she is cleaning the organs of pigs (called offal), along with the pig's flesh, in a stream near her house. Throughout the novel Arabella is associated with pigs. She feels a strong sexual attraction to Jude, which she confesses to her friends, and he is drawn to her frank sexuality and physical exuberance.

Even though she is an inappropriate and unworthy partner for him, Arabella's sexuality draws him to her. Arabella and Jude must kill a pig at one point in the story, and Jude's unwillingness to deliver a slow and painful death to the animal becomes the basis of the quarrel that finally separates them. When Arabella catches Jude again, she is working with her father in a pork shop, and she brings the drunken Jude back to her room in the same location to seduce him once again and force him to marry her. While Arabella's pig-like nature is her mechanism of survival, the aspect of Jude that is pig-like leads to his downfall and ultimate destruction.

Gin Traps

Gin traps in the novel symbolize incarceration and thwarted aspirations. A so-called gin trap was used primarily to catch rabbits, and Jude frees a rabbit in agony caught in a trap right before he and Sue finally admit their feelings for each other and engage in their first passionate kiss. Both Sue and Jude are caught in the trap of their first marriages, painful to both in different and opposing ways, and they do considerable damage to themselves by escaping from those traps to live together.

Jude refers to sex as a "gin" that traps a man into an unhappy marriage—as has happened to him in marrying Arabella. Sue is the occasion for checking his religious aspirations, since he cannot live in sin with the woman he loves and still become a priest. It seems whatever Jude aspires to catches him in one gin trap or another.

Samson and Delilah

There is a painting of Samson and Delilah hung at the tavern where Arabella and Jude have drinks during their first outing. Jude inadvertently returns to the same tavern to drown his sorrows in drink after he unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide the first time. The story of Samson and Delilah in the Hebrew Bible is one in which a woman tricks a man who loves her into telling her the secret of his superhuman strength—his hair. Delilah betrays Samson and allows his enemies to cut off his hair and defeat him.

The story is an archetypal representation of female duplicity and betrayal. Thus, the portrait symbolizes how Jude is betrayed by Arabella, who twice tricks him into marrying her against his better judgment. After she gets him drunk in Christminster and brings him to her father's house to put her plan to marry him a second time into motion, she watches Jude sleep, and the narrator refers to him as a "shorn Samson." The situational irony is not lost in that on their first wedding night, the defeated Jude is shocked to discover that Arabella's hair is not all hers. In a sense she is shorn as well but gains from her duplicity.


Birds are the opposite of gins in the novel; they represent freedom and happiness to follow one's wholesome and natural inclinations. When the young Phillotson leaves Marygreen, he tells Jude to be kind to birds and animals. Jude pities the crows and allows them to eat Farmer Troutham's seeds, thus earning him a beating and a firing. Sue memorizes Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," as a child, and while the raven is a symbol of death in the poem, it may be a symbol of rebellion for the young Sue. Later, Jude calls her a "poor little bird," caught in the net of her marriage to Phillotson, and the narrator describes her as birdlike.

Sue has two pairs of pigeons at Aldbrickham that she must sell when she and Jude break up their home, but later she sees them in the shop and quietly opens the cage and allows them to go free. Later Gillingham says he always thought it was a mistake for Phillotson to open the cage and let the bird go free—referring to his allowing Sue to leave her marriage.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Jude the Obscure? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!