Hardy?s Use of Jude and Sue in Jude the Obscure
In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy presents the characters Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead, who violate the conventions of the repressive Victorian society while attempting to follow their natural instincts. By studying the novel, one sees that Hardy’s intentions in doing this are to arouse the reader’s sympathy for the characters, and to join in their ridicule of the codes of conduct they are breaking.
The trial of Jude and Sue evoke a sympathetic response from the reader because the couple reflects the values which are prevalent in modern society. They suffer persecution for yielding to emotions which are no longer considered unacceptable or forbidden, as they were then. This portrays Victorian society as being cruel and unnatural, thus creating affection for the characters. Hardy understood the tendency for society to swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. He knew that the Victorian era would not last indefinitely, and that future generations would become more liberated. This is beautifully illustrated in this reflection of Sue’s: ‘When people of a later age look back upon the barbarous customs and superstitions of the times that we have the unhappiness to live in, what will they think?? (p.276) According to modern values, it is wrong to condemn people for following their pure and natural instincts, though they ?have wronged no man, condemned no man, defrauded no man.? (p.378) Therefore, by predicting these shifts, and exposing the injustice of Victorian society, Hardy evokes sympathy in the reader for Sue and Jude.
Hardy also uses the two characters to reveal that he finds the society in which they live ridiculous. He joins Sue and Jude as they laugh at ?the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress. (p.279) In rare times of ?Greek joyousness? (p.366) Jude and Sue live by ?Nature?s law? and are able to enjoy, unabated, the ?instincts which civilization has taken upon itself to thwart.? (p.413) It is during these times that the two are truly able to laugh at the conventions they have violated, as they are content and unaffected by the repercussions. Hardy takes these opportunities to laugh with them, as through their words and actions he reveals his contempt for the Victorian system.
Thomas Hardy?s novel Jude the Obscure, illustrates the attempts made by Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead to defy the rules and customs of Victorian society. This evokes a sympathetic reaction from the reader and allows the author to prudently scorn the system along with the characters. This method of indirectly criticizing Victorian society is appropriate for a time when freedom of expression was a punishable crime.