Jude the Obscure By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Part 4: Chapters 1-2

Summary

When Jude visits Sue at Shaston, he sits playing his favorite hymn while waiting for her to come in. Her being moved by it causes him to say that at heart they are alike, but Sue counters by saying they are, however, not alike "at head." When they argue over whether they can still be friends, Jude calls her a flirt; she replies by saying that some women can't be satisfied with loving and being loved by only one man. She calls him a Joseph, a Don Quixote, a St. Stephen, and speaks of herself as a woman full of conflicting feelings. Leaving her and wandering about the town while waiting for his train, Jude finally finds his way back to Sue's house, and from the dark sees her inside take out a photograph and clasp it to her bosom but can't be sure if it's his. He knows that he will go see her again, no matter what resolves he makes.

Though Sue writes to say he mustn't come to see her and Jude replies to agree, he does notify her when his aunt dies, expecting Sue to come to Marygreen for the funeral. She does come, and after the funeral she brings up the subject of unhappy marriages and the reasons for them, particularly mentioning a woman's "fastidiousness." When Jude tries to apply her remarks personally, she insists she is not unhappy. Purposely, Jude tells her that he has seen Arabella and he may go back to her because of the way Sue has acted toward him. Sue finally does admit she is unhappy but blames it on her own wickedness, though she says that "what tortures [her] so much is the necessity of being responsive to this man whenever he wishes, good as he is morally." Later, when Jude goes outside to put out of its suffering a rabbit caught in a trap, he finds that Sue has been unable to sleep. She says that with his religious beliefs he must think it a sin for her to tell him her troubles, but Jude replies that he will forego all his beliefs if she will let him help her.

Analysis

Jude and Sue are brought together, first at Shaston and then by the aunt's death at Marygreen, in order to make possible a criticism of the institution of marriage. The essential point is that marriage as a social institution is unresponsive to the needs of the individual, and Sue is the spokesman for this view, not only on the basis of her fairly brief experience with Phillotson, but also on the basis of her ideas. She speaks here for the new woman whose "love of being loved is insatiable," as is her "love of loving." She assumes more freedom than, perhaps, she knows what to do with, and her sense of being free is in conflict with what society demands. What it demands is, of course, commitment or contract until death. As a character Sue, naturally, is trying to justify her attitude toward Phillotson as well as Jude, neither of whom is able to make her out. Jude's response, finally, is his willingness to give up his old notions of marriage, not because they are wrong, but because he will do anything for Sue.

This consideration of marriage is continued in the next two chapters in Sue's comments to Phillotson and Phillotson's to Gillingham. Of the four characters, only Gillingham maintains the conventional view steadfastly. Even Phillotson changes sufficiently to allow Sue to leave him, although he says it is against his principles. In short, the old is giving way to the new, though even Sue, the most outspoken, keeps referring perfunctorily to the fact that she must be wicked to act toward her husband as she does. She prefers the idea of freedom to the idea of sin, but the old habits of thought and the old terminology still persist.

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