Jude the Obscure

by Thomas Hardy

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Analyze Jude the Obscure as a bildungsroman.

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Jude the Obscure at first follows the typical trajectory of a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age genre about the growth, journey, and maturing of a central character. Jude journeys to Christminster to pursue his dreams but, unlike in a conventional bildungsroman, meets with failure and tragedy. Hardy thus turns the bildungsroman on its head, showing the universe as dominated not by a good god but by an indifferent nature that does not care about the plight of individual people.

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A bildungsroman is a novel of education, showing the development of a young main character, usually male, from youth to a place of maturity as he experiences life, often through a journey, during which he changes and grows.

Jude the Obscure follows the trajectory of a bildungsroman in being a story about the growth, journey, and maturity of a central male character, starting in his youth, when he is on the brink of adult life. We see Jude learn and grow from a bad marriage, and we see this humble young man's yearning for a university education. When he is encouraged by his teacher, Phillotson, who gets to go to Christminster (based on Oxford) to study, and when Jude sees the glimmering lights of Christminster one evening, he thinks these are signs that he is fated to get the education he dreams of. So far, we are in the realm of the conventional bildungsroman and, as readers, rooting for the sensitive and intelligent Jude to pursue his dreams and find success.

Jude does go to Christminster, but here is where Hardy turns the conventional bildungsroman on its head. God is not watching over Jude, because in Hardy's naturalistic worldview, there is no god, only a relentless nature that doesn't care about the fate of individual humans. Jude does not follow the traditional success path of a typical bildungsroman but deviates from common morality when he lives with Sue (as he is still married to Arabella) and meets with failure and tragedy.

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