Jude The Obscure Essay, Research Paper
I got an A+ on this bitch:
Sue and Arabella in Jude the Obscure
Thomas Hardy’s diary contains an entry that explains how he will show the world something it needs to be shown in a story about a poor, struggling young man who has to deal with ultimate failure (Howe 132). This brief description of a story has turned into Hardy’s phenomenal Jude the Obscure. Jude is emotionally torn between the two main women in the novel, Sue and Arabella, because each woman can only partially satisfy his urges. The stark difference in emotion, conversation, and sexual appetite make Sue and Arabella polar opposites in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.
Jude is ripped between the pure sexuality of Arabella and the pure intellect of Sue (Draper 252). Ronald P. Draper writes that Jude is sexually more comfortable with Arabella so, in this sense, she is Jude’s true partner (252). “Arabella represents the classical entrapment by sex: the entrapment of an ‘innocent’ sensual man by a hard, needy, shackling woman” (Hardwick 69). Bernard D. N. Grebanier goes even farther, saying that Arabella with stop at nothing to get Jude (713).
Sue is a complicated mesh of sexual aversion and the power of female intellect (Hardwick 68). As Elizabeth Hardwick puts it, Sue “thinks and that is her mystery” (67). Sue has radical ideas, especially for a woman, and it is commonplace for her to question society and it’s problems (Hardwick 68). Sue, to Jude’s dismay, also dismisses much of religion (Hardwick 68).
The sacred act of marriage is questioned in Jude the Obscure (Saldivar 192). Marriage is seen as an institution open to criticism that is violated by need, chance, and the choices made by the characters (Hardwick 68). For Sue, violations in wholeness and freedom are agonizing (Hardwick 69). Draper notices that every marriage and divorce in the novel are wholly different from what the characters actually want (247). Jude marries Arabella, Sue marries Phillotson, both pairs divorce, and then Jude and Sue are coerced into marriage by the same people (Draper 247). In the end, Sue is destroyed (Hardwick 73). She gives in to the sexually incompatible Phillotson and starts going to church, an institution that she has always criticized (Hardwick 73).
It is easier for Sue to give into marriage than to sex (Hardwick 71). The name “Bridehead” itself is ironic (Hardwick 71). The irony, says Hardwick, comes in her misgivings about sex and marriage (71). She also says that Sue feels an intense aversion to Phillotson (72). Draper classifies Sue as one who has a weak sexual appetite (252). Because of this, she is unable to sleep with Phillotson (Draper 252). She hides in a closet and jumps out of a window to avoid all sexual contact with her husband (Hardwick 72). Draper notes that these events were foreshadowed earlier in the novel (245). When Sue was young and said, “Move on, aunty! This is no sight for modest eyes,” Hardy was foreshadowing how Sue teases men but will not sexually satisfy them (Draper 245). Sue’s thoughts on marriage are best described in what she says to Jude:
I am called Mrs. Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with my counterpart of that name. But I am not really Mr. Richard Phillotson, but a woman tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions, and unaccountable antipathies (233).
The physical differences between Sue and Arabella further the fact that they are complete opposites in the novel (Weinstein 236). Sue is a striking, thin, frail woman who is continually analyzing her situation (Hardwick 67). In contrast, Arabella is chubbier, she is less attractive, and she is always thinking of sex (Hardwick 67). Philip M. Weinstein writes that Sue is “not in any clarifying way a woman at all” (236). Jude’s great-aunt’s friend identified Sue’s natural tendencies as “not exactly [like] a tomboy, you know; but she could do things that only boys do, as a rule” (Hardy 133). Hardwick writes that experience, to both Sue and Arabella, is not what it is to us, the compounded events of our lives, but “it is the response of their differing consciousness to love, want, greed, or renunciation” (67).
Arabella is able to satisfy herself and live spontaneously while conforming to society’s set standards (Draper 252-253). At the end of the novel, Arabella “critically gauges his [Jude’s] ebbing life” (407). This critical gauging reminds the reader of the heartless pig slaughter that had earlier foreshadowed Jude’s misery in life and death (Weinstein 236-237; Hardwick 70). Arabella is coarse, unloving, deceitful, and sullen (Hardwick 69). Hardwick calls Arabella “blackness in action” (71). Draper backs this statement by writing that Arabella is “untrammeled by conscience or guilt when dealing with opposition” (252). She uses Jude’s sensitivity against him with no remorse; thus, he is putty in her hands (Draper 252).
Contrary to Arabella, Sue is “all charm and sympathy” (Hardwick 72). Her feelings are reflective, whereas Arabella’s source of feeling is indistinct and immediate (Hardwick 67). Love and respect make her the only bringer of happiness in Jude (Hardwick 67). Hardwick writes that Sue redeems Jude’s miserable life, teaching him to love and be loved (67). She is mostly self-educated and learns just to learn, unlike Jude who wants an education in hopes of finding a profession (Hardwick 68).
Each woman expresses herself differently to Jude in conversation (Weinstein 232-234). Hardwick notes that Jude isn’t in control of his life (67). His situation is always dominated but what Sue or Arabella give to or withhold from him (Hardwick 67). When incomprehensible things happen to Sue and Jude, they turn to quotations that are throughout their minds (Weinstein 232). Weinstein writes that Sue uses conversation and quotes to assuage the confusion and misery she and Jude felt after their children’s deaths (232).
“They are talking about us, no doubt!” moaned Sue. “We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men!” . . . There is something external to us which says, “You shan’t!” First it said, “You shan’t learn!” Then it said, “You shan’t labour!” Now it says, “You shan’t love!” (346).
Sue believes that their children’s deaths were caused by something she said or something she failed to say, but it was the physical affection that drove Father Time to suicide, says Weinstein (233).
Arabella effects Jude’s unconscious, so when he is with her he becomes paralyzed and completely gives in to her (Weinstein 234). His paralysis is shown in the lines, “a compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power seized hold of him – something which had nothing in common with the spirits and influences that had move him hitherto” (67-68). Arabella unconsciously affects Jude’s speech as well, notes Weinstein (234). Whenever she asks him to do something, he responds in a passive “Of course,” or “As you like,” even if he has misgivings about it (Weinstein 238). But, Weinstein writes, he doesn’t resent her for this because he isn’t aware it is happening (234). One evening after Jude had been with Arabella he comes home and sees his books: “There lay his book open, just as he had left it, and the capital letters on the title-page regarded him with fixed reproach in the gray starlight, like the unclosed eyes of a dead man” (Hardwick 70). Jude has easily given in to her dominance, “a trap [that is] very steely” (Hardwick 67).
Jude’s emotional turmoil comes from incompatibilities with both Sue and Arabella. They want Jude for different reasons and Jude wants them for different reasons. Jude loves Sue’s intellect but cannot deal with her sexual aversion. Arabella fulfills Jude’s sexual needs but not his emotional ones like Sue can.
Draper, Ronald P. “Hardy’s Comic Tragedy: Jude the Obscure.” Critical Essays on Thomas Hardy: The Novels. Dale Kramer. New York: G. K. Hall & Company, 1990. 243-254.
Grebanier, Bernard D. N. The Essentials of English Literature. Volume Two. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Incorporated, 1948.
Hardwick, Elizabeth. “Sue and Arabella.” The Genius of Thomas Hardy. Margaret Drabble. New York: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Limited, 1976. 67-73.
Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Howe, Irving. Masters of World Literature: Thomas Hardy. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967.
Saldivar, Ramon. “Jude the Obscure: Redaing and the Spirit of the Law.” Modern Critical Views: Thomas Hardy. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 191-205.
Weinstein, Philip M. “‘The Spirit Unappeased and Peregrine’: Jude the Obscure.” Critical Essays on Thomas Hardy: The Novels. Dale Kramer. New York: G. K. Hall & Company, 1990. 228-243.