Jude the Obscure Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 41 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Jude the Obscure.
This section contains 934 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Religion

Religion plays a big role in this novel on two levels. First, the universities in Christminster mostly cater to those who want to enter the church as learned men, bishops. As Jude becomes an adult and studies the Latin and Greek texts, he comes across he comes to believe that he wants nothing more than to become a bishop in the church. This also stems from Mr. Phillotson's parting words to Jude that studying to enter the church is the best a man can hope to aspire. Even when Jude discovers that his poverty will keep him from entering one of these universities, he continues to hope to enter the church through a less prestigious program that will help him become a priest.

Sue does not believe in the teachings of the church. From the beginning of the novel, Sue questions the law of the church and the hypocrisy that allows the church to believe it knows all about the time of Christ, even the layout of a city that does not even truly exist in her times as it did in Christ's time. Sue's beliefs include the idea that marriage is simply a contract designed to give two people power over one another, a system that removes romance from the equation. Sue refuses to marry Jude on three occasions for this reason, because she is afraid it will change the way Jude feels about her.

The second way in which religion impacts the plot of the novel is not only Sue's beliefs against religion, but later her changing attitude in which she decides her children have been murdered because she has chosen to live in sin with Jude. This embrace of religion leads Sue to believe that in order to atone for her sins she must leave Jude and reunite with her husband. Sue thinks that God is punishing her for her happiness and the only way to atone is to be unhappy for the rest of her life. For this reason, Sue leaves the man she loves and gives herself, body and soul, to another whom she does not love.

Love

Love comes in many forms. In this novel it comes between family members and between lovers. Jude is the child of a broken marriage before it was common for people to divorce. Jude's father dies, leaving him to the mercy of an aunt who, while not outright cruel, has little interest in raising a child. This leaves Jude feeling unloved and unwanted, leaving him vulnerable to falling for the first girl who crosses his path. This girl is Arabella, a young pig farmer's daughter who traps Jude into marriage because she believes it would be fun to have a man take care of her. However, Arabella soon grows tired of Jude and throws him over, leaving him feeling once again as though he does not matter to anyone.

Jude moves to Christminster and falls deeply in love with Sue Bridehead, his cousin. This relationship takes a rocky path as Sue first refuses to love Jude and later punishes him for his marriage by marrying another man. Eventually Jude and Sue find happiness together, but their happiness is short lived. Jude's child from his first marriage, a child who has also always felt in the way and unwanted, takes his own life and the lives of Jude and Sue's children in order to make life easier for his parents. Rather than make life easier, however, Young Jude's actions sever their relationship for good.

Jude has struggled to find love all his life, but when he finally finds it it is with a woman who is not prepared to love another person. Jude struggles to find happiness, struggles to convince his soul mate that they are meant to be together whether or not the church or society agrees. In the end, however, Jude loses against society and dies in obscurity, one more lost soul for whom no one is willing to lose their own soul for.

Education

Jude dreams of moving to Christminster and becoming an educated man all throughout his childhood. To make this happen, Jude begins studying every book he can get his hands on, teaching himself to read, write, and speak both Latin and Greek. Jude is clearly a very intelligent man to be able to teach himself these difficult languages without any help. However, Jude is not a wealthy man and he cannot afford to attend university. The idea that he will never achieve his desired goal leaves Jude devastated.

At the same time, Jude befriends his old schoolmaster, a man who spends his life educating young minds but also could not afford to get into university. These two men have the same ruined dream and these two men also fall in love with the same woman. The schoolmaster loses his right to teach when he allows his wife to live with Jude, her lover. However, the realization that this simple thing, this less than thing, is all he has the schoolmaster is willing to do anything to get it back, including marrying a woman who does not want him.

Education is important to Jude and it makes a statement about who a man is in this novel. The fact that something so fundamental is kept out of reach for Jude simply underscores the desires of a man's heart and the society that keeps it from him, making the love story that much more pronounced to the reader. It is a parallel desire, a parallel story that reinforces all the themes of the novel for the reader.

This section contains 934 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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