Jude the Obscure may be thought of as the argument of Tess of the D’Urbervilles taken one step farther. Whereas the latter focuses on the loss of a unified order and meaning, the former begins with the premise of that loss and deals with the epic search for meaning. The novel is the archetypal story of everyone who searches for a basis of meaning and value. The problem for Jude is that all of the symbols of meaning for him—education, religion, the beauty of Sue Bridehead—are illusions. Jude is “obscure” because he is in darkness, trying to find an illumination of his relationship to the world but failing at every turn.
The novel begins with Jude as a young man losing his only real friend, the schoolmaster Phillotson, who has been the center of his world. Thus, from the first Jude must find a new center and a new hope to relieve his loneliness. His first projection of hope is toward the celestial city of Christminster, where his teacher has gone. In the first section of the book, his dream is like an indefinable glow in the distance. His ideal value system, represented both by the Christian and the classical framework of Christminster, is put aside, however, when he meets Arabella, described by Hardy as “a substantial female animal.” Seduced by the flesh, Jude marries Arabella when she says she is pregnant and gives up his hope of an education. His discovery that Arabella has deceived him is the first disillusionment he...
(The entire section is 593 words.)