Summary and Analysis
Jude has planned it so they arrive on Remembrance Day (anniversary of founding of the university), and instead of looking for lodgings he wants to view the festivities. But when he sees young men from the colleges, he feels it will be "Humiliation Day" for him. He passes the building from which he looked out over the colleges and decided he would never achieve his academic ambitions, and he is recognized by several men with whom he drank and who now remind him of his failure. He addresses a speech to them and the crowd, in which he discusses his attempt to succeed and the reasons for failure, ending with the declaration that "there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas." In their wanderings through the crowds Sue has spotted Phillotson, an indication to her that he must live somewhere near. They have a difficult time finding lodgings for the whole family, finally settling for rooms for Sue and the children only. When the landlady discovers Sue is not married, she tells her husband and informs Sue she must leave the next day. With Little Father Time she looks unsuccessfully for another place but decides not to worry Jude with the problem until the next day.
In the bare rooms from which Sue can see some of the colleges, a proximity Jude has insisted on, Sue talks to Little Father Time before they go to bed. The boy is sure the family's plight is caused by the children and can't understand why children are born at all, though Sue explains to him it is a law of nature. When she tells him she is pregnant with another child, he says she has done it on purpose to bring the family to further ruin. The next morning, without looking in on the children she goes to find Jude and tells him of their problem about lodgings. When they return to Sue's lodgings to prepare breakfast for the children, she goes into their room, to discover all three are dead. Jude and Sue decide, when they think about it later, that Little Father Time awakened to find Sue gone, hanged the two younger children first and then hanged himself. The note he left seems to confirm this.
To comfort Sue, Jude repeats the doctor's observation that Little Father Time is one of a new generation of children with a preternatural wisdom and sense of defeat. Sue, not relieved, speaks of a fate that has ruled their lives inexorably, says that in dealing with the boy she should have been wiser, and remembers with dismay that once she asserted they should enjoy the instincts nature gave them. Jude agrees that a fate rules and that they can do nothing about their destiny. Jude doesn't allow Sue to attend the funeral; however, when he returns from it he discovers she is gone and finds her at the grave, insisting the gravedigger stop filling in the grave so she can look at her dead children. Jude takes her home, puts her to bed, and calls the doctor; her baby is prematurely born dead.
The two important scenes here embody the theme of the novel rather directly. Jude's speech to the street crowd is his second public performance, the other being his recitation in a tavern of the Creed in Latin. Here he tries to explain his life. He asserts that his failure is a failure of circumstances (poverty), not will; but later he remarks, "I was, perhaps, after all, a paltry victim to the spirit of mental and social restlessness, that makes so many unhappy in these days!" But Sue will not allow this and says he "struggled nobly to acquire knowledge." After admitting he is in "a chaos of principles" now, he ends by remarking that something is wrong with society. In short, Jude acknowledges that he has been caught in changes he doesn't understand and has ended not knowing what to believe in.
That "something external" to them, as Sue puts it with Jude agreeing by reference to a line from Agamemnon, should have shaped their destiny is vividly suggested in the melodramatic scene of the children's death. Suddenly, Little Father Time and the other two are gone, and Sue's child is born dead. Without reason, as far as Jude and Sue can see, this last blow is dealt them.
The scene is one of those sensational, melodramatic incidents for the use of which in his novels critics have often taken Hardy to task. Perhaps such scenes can be justified on the basis of the fact that most of his novels were first serialized in magazines and he needed to maintain reader interest from month to month. Whatever the reason for their inclusion, here the scene is impossible to believe, not the least of the reasons for which is the note Little Father Time leaves, "Done because we are too menny." Further, the scene is inconsistent with the kind of reality Hardy depicts everywhere else in the novel.
The unreality of the scene is increased because the chief actor in it is Little Father Time. It is appropriate to his symbolic meaning that he should be the one to hang the two children before, of course, taking his own life. As one critic has pointed out, Little Father Time as a symbol is unnecessary because what he stands for is already illustrated in Jude's own life.
It is of course significant that these scenes occur in Christminster, Jude's symbol of all that is good in life.