Summary and Analysis
Part 4: Chapter 6
When Sue does not return to Phillotson and he does not hesitate to tell the school authorities why, he is asked to resign, refuses to do so, and is dismissed. In the public meeting he calls to defend himself, most townspeople are against him, but some few are for him. The scuffle that results turns the meeting into a bad farce. Owing to Gillingham's telling her that he is ill, Sue comes to see Phillotson; he asks her to come back but she will not. He learns for the first time that Jude has been married. Later, he tells Gillingham that for Sue's sake he is going to divorce her, as Jude is divorcing Arabella.
The "farcical yet melancholy" scene of the public meeting that Phillotson insists on calling is the only one of its kind in the novel. It occupies only one paragraph, and it is described rather than presented dramatically. But it does have a kind of appropriateness in showing to what a decent man like Phillotson has been reduced.
What the slapstick quality of the scene helps to show is the irony in the fact that with the best of intentions Phillotson has brought about all the difficulties he now finds himself in. He decided to let Sue go though it was against his beliefs; he insists on being honest about why she never returns; he goes out of his way to call a meeting in which to try to defend what he has done. What he now suffers is what Gillingham predicted that he would: public ignominy and scorn. Even worse, the whole thing has collapsed into low comedy. Like Jude, Phillotson is unable to hurt anyone, and again like Jude, with the best will in the world he usually succeeds in hurting himself. In spite of what has happened, he predictably decides he will divorce Sue and give her complete freedom.