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JUDE THE OBSCURE BY THOMAS HARDY
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The novel is divided into six parts; each is centered on a particular town or village. At the beginning of each of the six parts is an epigraph or quotation, which is meant to throw light on the events that follow. They also have an interpretative function.
Part I is set in Marygreen where Jude is seen as a young boy with a passion for a university education. But as he grows up his studies are interrupted by a hasty and disastrous marriage to Arabella. The marriage breaks up and Arabella leaves for Australia.
Part II is set in Christminster. Recovering from his first setback and a failed marriage, Jude makes his way to Christminster, where he works as a stone-mason while pursuing his studies. He meets his cousin Sue and is attracted to her, but he knows he is still legally bound to Arabella. He finds that entry into the university is impossible for one of his status.
Part III is centered in Melchester. Jude gives up his ideas of attending the university and now aims to study for the church, hoping to enter a theological college. Sue goes to a teacher-training college, and Jude follows her there. Jude is deeply in love with Sue, but Sue gets engaged to Phillotson and marries him. Jude is dejected at Sue's marriage. Arabella returns from Australia.
Part IV is set in Shaston. Sue's and Phillotson's marriage is in trouble. She asks Phillotson for her freedom and goes back to Jude.
Part V is staged in Aldbrickham. Sue finally agrees to live with Jude on intimate terms. They are both divorced now and are free to marry, but they do not. Little Father Time makes his appearance, and Sue looks after him. They are forced to leave, moving from one town to another, because of gossip and social disapproval.
Part VI is the return to Christminster. Little Father Time hangs himself and the two children in despair. Sue, overcome by grief and guilt, returns to Phillotson and remarries him. In utter despair Jude is trapped into remarrying Arabella. However, ill and desolate, he meets an early death.
It will be noticed that in the first two parts of the book the focus is on Jude, with his brave and persistent efforts to educate himself. Arabella is an obstacle at first, but she is taken care of. But with Part III, when Jude abandons his dream of entering Christminster, the focus now shifts to Sue. The plot revolves around her, and the Themes of love, marriage, sexual relationships and freedom replace the earlier theme of education.
With his training as an architect, Hardy was very conscious of structure. The plot is based on a symmetrical pattern of marriage, desertion, divorce and final remarriage. Jude marries Arabella, Sue marries Phillotson, and both leave their mates and live with each other. They both obtain divorces and are free to marry each other but neglect to do so. Ultimately, they each remarry their former partners, but this step only brings greater misery and suffering.
The structure can also be interpreted as a reversal in beliefs for both Jude and Sue. Sue, at the beginning of the novel, is rational in temper and rather irreverent about traditional religion, but by the end of the book, she is plagued by guilt and remorse. She has reverted to conventional religion. Jude, who at the beginning was the traditionalist, holding conventional Christian views, has become skeptical and embittered by the end of the novel.
Hardy's style has often been described as rather heavy and ponderous with awkward rhythms and a tendency towards circumlocution. For instance, Jude and Sue's reaction to the arrival of Little Father Time (in Part V, Chapter 5) provides a good example of Hardy's style: "To be sure, with such pleasing anxious beings as they were, the boy's coming also brought with it much thought for the future, particularly as he seemed at present to be singularly deficient in all the usual hopes of childhood. But the pair tried to dismiss, for a while at least, a too strenuously forward view." In the same chapter they take Little Father Time to the Agricultural show, "Not regretful of themselves alone, they had taken care to bring Father Time to try every means of making him kindle and laugh like other boys, though he was to some extent a hindrance to the delightfully unreserved intercourse in their pilgrimages which they so much enjoyed." The language at times seems stilted and deliberately pompous.
In this novel Hardy consciously tries to avoid too much authorial comment, but as a result his protagonists tend to lecture each other at length. There are long, erudite speeches on marriage, divorce and religion (Part IV, Chapter 3). Many of the conversations between Jude and Sue, and sometimes Phillotson, lack a true conversational tone.
Hardy is far more successful at catching the conversational tones of rustic characters and country folk, such as Aunt Drusilla (Part II, Chapter 6), who gives the reader glimpses of Sue as a child. Some of his earlier chapters, too, of Jude trying to combine study with work while driving his baker's wagon combine realism with humor (Part I). The same can also be said of the account of Jude's entrapment by Arabella.
Hardy's style, despite its few faults, is quite distinctive. His very clumsiness and roughness give his writing a striking individuality and charm. Unfortunately, unlike his other novels, Jude the Obscure does not offer the reader many descriptions of the Wessex countryside. In Tess of the D'Urbervilles and in The Woodlanders Hardy reaches a peak of excellence in using landscape to create atmosphere and to recreate varied pictures of rural life.