Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
JUDE THE OBSCURE BY THOMAS HARDY
USE OF IRONY
Hardy is very effective in his use of irony, particularly in Jude the Obscure, a novel that has tragic implications.
There are numerous instances of irony. In Part II, Chapter 5, Phillotson begins to fall in love with Sue, who is his pupil and assistant teacher. Jude is appalled at Phillotson's growing interest in Sue, but ironically, it is he who has brought them together by suggesting that Phillotson take Sue as an assistant. Jude's intention was to keep Sue near him, but the development of Richard Phillotson as a rival is something that Jude had not anticipated. Phillotson, on the other hand, is totally unaware that Jude regards Sue as anything more than a cousin.
Another example of irony is seen when Hardy uses it to make a comment on a character. Jude attempts to seek out the composer at Kennetbridge (Part III, Chapter 10), hoping in his idealism that the man who composed such stirring music will be a kind of guide and philosopher. His enthusiasm gets a rude jolt when he faces reality. The composer is a shrewd businessman bent on entering the more lucrative wine trade.
Sue's finally being intimate with Jude is ironically the result of Arabella's reappearance in Aldbrickham (Part V, Chapter 2). Sometimes, Hardy uses coincidence to make an ironic statement: for instance, Jude and Sue stay at the very same inn where Jude and Arabella had spent the night a month earlier. (Even the name, the Temperance Hotel, is ironic.) Sue is given the same room that Jude and Arabella shared (Part IV, Chapter 5). However, it can be argued that at times the coincidence seems too forced to be true.
In Part V, Chapter 6, Jude is given the commission of restoring the stonework of the ten commandments in the village church. Sue comes to assist him, and a cleaning woman, noticing Sue is carrying a child, comments that they are a strange pair to be painting the two tables. Sue herself recognizes the absurd irony of the situation that they who scorned all laws and social conventions should be retelling the Ten Commandments.
In Part VI, after the horrifying deaths of the three children, organ music from the college chapel plays the 73rd psalm, "Truly God is loving unto Israel," striking a note of rather heavy irony.
Finally Jude's death in Christminster on Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the founding of the university and also the anniversary of the deaths of his children, is ironically appropriate. The sound of bells and cheering outside is contrasted with Jude's desolate and lonely end, effectively creating an atmosphere of despair and pathos.
SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / METAPHORS / SYMBOLS
One of the most important symbols in the novel is Christminster. From his very first glimpse of it, sitting on a ladder atop the Brown House, Jude is enchanted with it. It is a symbol of all his dreams and aspirations, an ideal that he longs for. In his mind he calls it the New Jerusalem: "(T)he city acquired tangibility, a permanence, a hold on his life..." (Part I, Chapter 3). Even at the end of the novel, when he is broken and beaten by life, Christminster continues to exert its fascination over him, and he chooses to return to it to die there.
Little Father Time also is a heavily symbolic figure. The reader is told he is "Age masquerading as Juvenility and doing it so badly that his real self showed through crevices" (Part V, Chapter 3). He is in the habit of sitting silent and solemn, with a pale, wizened, prematurely aged face and with large "saucer eyes." He seems extremely unlike a real child, and Hardy's characterization of Little Father Time has often been harshly criticized as lacking credibility. Perhaps Hardy intended him to be not a child, but a symbolic representation of fate and despair. His utterances are reminiscent of the Greek Chorus, which commented on the proceedings of the play. For instance, at the Christminster festivities, while the family watches the procession of dignitaries in "blood-red robes," Little Father Time watches gloomily and remarks that it seems like Judgment Day.
Another symbol, which is repeated quite often, is the parallel between Jude and Samson. In Part I, Chapter 8, Jude and Arabella stop at an inn for tea. Arabella has ensnared Jude. The analogy to Delilah is clear: Arabella has "(t)he triumphant laugh of a woman who sees she is winning her game." One cannot miss the symbolic significance of the picture of Samson and Delilah on the wall. Jude, like Samson, is about to be robbed of his strength by the wiles of a calculating and shrewd woman. Towards the end of the novel, when Arabella contemplates her second entrapment of Jude in marriage, he is again described as a "shorn Samson" (Part VI, Chapter 7).
The incident of the trapped rabbit (Part IV, Chapter 2) also has symbolic overtones. Jude and Sue are sensitive to the suffering of other creatures. They both cannot bear to hear its cry of pain, and Jude quickly delivers it from its misery. The incident, while bringing them closer, is also symbolic of Sue's situation: she is caught and trapped in an unhappy marriage. Jude too is trapped in his marriage to Arabella, which Hardy earlier describes as being caught "in a gin which would cripple him." Sue's action in setting her pair of pigeons free at the poulterer's shop (Part V, Chapter 6) also has a symbolic meaning. It is an action typical of her sensitive and impulsive nature, but it also signifies her constant desire to break free from the shackles of a social order, which demands that one should conform.