Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Compare Jude’s relationship with Arabella to his relationship with Sue.

    Although Sue and Arabella are very different from each other, their relationships with Jude share some overlapping qualities. Both women arguably use Jude to get something that they want - for Arabella, it's respectability and financial stability, and for Sue, it is the sense of power and security that come from being in love. In both relationships, Jude is so overwhelmed by physical attraction that he makes decisions he otherwise might not make (like putting aside his studies to visit Arabella, or spying on Sue in Christminster). And on p. 215, Jude notes that both women become obstacles to his religious and career ambitions.

  2. 2

    What does the novel say about education and accessibility? Is Jude right to dream of becoming a scholar? Why?

    Jude the Obscure comes down heavily in favor of broadening access to higher education. Hardy repeatedly shows undergraduates being lazy or intoxicated, and contrasts these moments with Jude's earnest intellectual curiosity and excellent work ethic. He suggests that a person's ability to succeed in academia can't be predicted by their class, and that laborers like Jude should have opportunities not only to better themselves by reading independently, but also to pursue careers in the academy.

  3. 3

    Hardy frequently interrupts the narrative to describe the location where the action takes place. What is the significance of these lush descriptions?

    These descriptions serve to establish mood, and they also give the novel a striking sense of place. Although certain elements of Jude's story - such as his complicated love life - are universal, other elements - such as his trouble getting into university, and his traditional moral values - are tied to the nineteenth-century English countryside. The descriptions of the setting remind us of how much Jude is influenced by his surroundings.

  4. 4

    Compare and contrast Jude and Sue’s attitudes toward Christianity.

    For most of the novel, Jude is more pious than Sue. Although his interest in religion is driven by intellectual curiosity rather than spiritual fervor, he is genuinely moved by artifacts like the model of Jerusalem and the devotional images at Wardour Castle. In contrast, Sue is irreverent and skeptical; she seems to believe that religion causes more harm than good. By the end of the novel, both characters have changed their views - Jude's opinions are closer to Sue's at the beginning of the novel, while Sue has reverted to a staunch traditional Christianity in response to the deaths of her children.

  5. 5

    Analyze Jude’s relationship with alcohol. How does it tie into the novel’s broader themes?

    Jude usually turns to alcohol in difficult emotional situations. However, Hardy also ties alcohol intoxication to the working-class country lifestyle that Jude wishes to transcend. When he first runs into Arabella in Christminster after she has returned to Australia, Jude loses his appetite for alcohol, presumably because it reminds him too much of his horrible marriage to Arabella at Marygreen and the episode that led to his embarrassment with Sue and dismissal from his job in Christminster. Likewise, Arabella is only able to convince Jude to marry her (and in doing so, regress to his old Marygreen self) by getting him drunk.

  6. 6

    Discuss Hardy’s treatment of setting in the novel.

    Characters in Jude the Obscure often react emotionally to their surroundings. For example, Jude leaves Christminster in Part Third because it reminds him too much of the past, and in Chapter I of "At Shaston", Jude and Sue have tea in the schoolhouse because she is too depressed by the house she shares with Phillotson. Because of this, setting allows Hardy to demonstrate the way characters change over time (or don't). Often the settings Hardy describes directly relate to the emotional terrain of his characters. For instance, Sue and Phillotson's home lies on hilly land, mirroring their rocky marriage.

  7. 7

    Trains appear very frequently in Jude the Obscure. Why might this be significant?

    When Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895, trains had been in use in England for decades and the country had a relatively well-developed rail system. The references to trains emphasize that this is a current and topical novel with relevance to the world today, a point that is important because Hardy makes so many criticisms of contemporary society. They also demonstrate how geographical mobility has changed rustic culture; Jude and Sue are able to escape the strictures of society (at least temporarily) because they can move to new neighborhoods and towns, an option that wasn't available to older generations.

  8. 8

    Discuss Hardy's use of foreshadowing in Jude the Obscure.

    Hardy makes extensive use of both explicit and implicit foreshadowing. Sometimes, the foreshadowing is direct and obvious, as when the narrator comments that Jude's marriage to Arabella will be a doomed enterprise. At other times, it is more subtle - note, for example, the numerous inauspicious omens that appear around the time Jude and Sue adopt Little Father Time. Both kinds of foreshadowing lend the novel a sense of tragic predestination - the characters are inexorably tied to their time and social position and are, thus, helpless to change their unfortunate fates.

  9. 9

    How does Hardy portray women in this novel?

    Hardy's depiction of women is progressive in some ways and more problematic in others. On the one hand, Hardy features an intelligent, emotionally nuanced female character in Sue Bridehead, and he is sensitive to the ways that marriage can be difficult for women in particular. However, Jude also notes at one point that women (namely, Arabella and Sue) have prevented him from realizing his dreams of being a professor or a parson, a point on which the narrator seems to agree with the protagonist. Also, the female characters besides Sue tend to be somewhat one dimensional - the Widow Edlin and Aunt Drusilla only have a few personality traits, and although Arabella has a certain admirable earthiness and self-sufficiency, she becomes extremely manipulative and somewhat caricatured by the end of the novel.

  10. 10

    Analyze Arabella's character. How does she change over the course of the novel?

    Although Arabella Donn is described as coarse and unintelligent, she pursues her goals with a single-mindedness unseen in any other character. Hardy suggests that Arabella's personality traits - good and bad - are influenced by her rural upbringing; when Jude slaughters the pig, the narrator qualifies Jude's moral objections by explaining that people who grew up in rural environments see animal slaughtering as necessary rather than cruel; the hungry don't have the luxury of sensitivity. Over the course of the novel, she becomes less innocent and more consciously manipulative, as demonstrated by her careful planning the second time she gets Jude to marry her.