Jude the Obscure and The Return of the Native are two famous novels written by Thomas Hardy. Hardy as a writer lived a long life that spanned two centuries. He tasted the better parts of the Victorian era from the mid-19th century and two-decades more of the early 20th century. Throughout his life, he wrote many poems and novels of ranging themes. The Return of the Native is among his early works published in 1878 while Jude the Obscure is his latest novel, written in 1895. The vast separation in time brings much difference between the books because of the experience and level of maturity of the author. However, some striking similarities can be cited thematically and in both characterization and setting. These novels revolve around the themes of love, marriage, social class, faith, sex, hopes, among others in a manner that is relatable to the characters of the two novels.
There is a similarity of conflicts in the two novels. To understand this similarity the factor of time and setting are the major contributors. Even though there is a big separation of the timing of the novels, they are set in the Victorian era where the rule of marriage, love, and divorce were controlled by social and political norms (Enough of this Tomfoolery, para. 4.) Love bore less importance for marriage because of the norm of respectability where people would marry according to their social class. Parental involvement was greatly considered and there was no privacy in courtship where any miss-step in the relationship became a matter of public opinion and talks of the town (Enough of this Tomfoolery, part 1.) Divorce was a very difficult situation, if not impossible, because of the adamance of the Victorian society to accept it. Furthermore, divorce was managed by the church which made it formidable should the reasons not be convincing enough (Enough of this Tomfoolery, para. 25). The protagonists of the two novels are in of pursuit true love, they entangle their affairs in breakups, illicit affairs, marriages, and divorces. These contrasts portray the author – Hardy as a revolutionist who tries to oppose the prevailing norms. He addresses this conflict around this desire of change by creating revolutionary protagonist – Jude and Eustacia whose desires hits a tragic futility.
The first similarity lies in the presentation of the protagonist by Hardy. He bestows on them superior experiences, thoughts, and feeling to the people around them. For instance, in Jude the Obscure, a strong and a very passionate love, exists between Jude and Sue. They see that they love doesn’t conform to their prevailing condition and wish that they could be born fifty years later. With their idea, Hardy probably think that fifty years later would be a better time where the enamored duo – Jude and Sue would live their love life freely without the interference of traditions and public opinion that dominated the period on the basis of true love. Therefore, this love between the two protagonists seems rebellious to the time and society they are naturally designed to live. This situation presents the tragic conflict of the novel since the two protagonists are in pursuit of love, ideal, and marriage but eventually fails to attain their desire.
The same situation is seen in the case of Eustacia, the heroine in The Return of the Native. She is bequeathed with a fervent wish, a strong will, and enthusiasm of pursuing love and happiness, but all this will and wish are not in line with the prevailing traditions that have different views of love and marriage and dictates the way of life in Egdon Heath. She, therefore, shows some advancement of mind as compared to the conventional minds of the people surrounding her as seen in her unusual activities. To her, Heath is a prison that has cage her love happiness. This is the origin of her unusual mind that feeds her unconventional nature. She resorts to prayers so that God can bestow upon her a great love. In this novel, the traditions that dictate how people act in accordance with customs and cultural morality is symbolized by the Heath. Therefore it doesn’t go by Eustacia’s understanding of love. In her attempts to oppose this tradition, she ends up dying portraying herself as a sacrificial lamb for her beliefs and views pertaining to normal love.
The two books are similarly set on a road of meandering relationships, love, marriage, and divorce. They depict a romantic entanglement where themes of marriage, divorce, love, and pretense are all conveyed. In the case of Jude the Obscure, the hero, Jude is portrayed as a fervent dreamer who aspires to study at the prestigious University of Christminster. However, before he could pursue this dream, he is lured into marriage by the seductive and opportunistic Arabella Donn. This marriage seems to be built on false love as Arabella would later claim false pregnancy. Their marriage didn’t last long and they soon broke apart. Jude decides to pursue his old dream and move to Christminster and meets and falls in love with Sue Bridehead after being denied entry to the university. Another twist comes in because Jude and Sue would not end up together even though they love each other. The entanglement continues as Sue opt to marry Richard Phillotson and yet again this marriage fails and they get a divorce. Still, Sue would not marry Jude even though they are both divorcees because of her rebelliousness. However, they indulge in an illicit affair where they bear two children. Romantic twist continues as Sue remarry Richard and Jude Arabella after Jude’s eldest child hanged himself together with his two siblings. Late Jude dies after trying to make up with Sue leaving Arabella in search of new romance. These events give a strong ground of fluctuating romance, unstable marriages, and divorce.
On the other hand, in The Return of the Native, Eustacia keep dating Wildeve though they are both married. Wildeve just can’t stop drooling over Eustacia even though she is his downfall as he says, “‘• •• the curse of inflammability is upon me, and I must live under it, and take any snub from a woman. It has brought me down from engineering to innkeeping: what lower stage it has in store for me I have yet to learn.” 13. On the hand, Eustacia is in the relationship with the knowledge that it is not built on true love. She keeps pretending even though she knows that this game means nothing to her. The reason for this is the fact that she eyes Clym, the dealer when she hears that she will be coming from Paris. Even though her reasons are in line with her pursuit of vainglory, she ends up falling in love with him even before they met. She fantasizes on marrying him and persuading him to go with her back to Paris. When she realized that Clym had come back just because he was tired of the city life, her dreams were shattered. She, therefore, plans to get back with Wildeve who was already engaged to Thomasin. Their marital status forces to carry their love affair in secret which would lead to the death of Wildeve’s when she found them in a room together and Eustacia hesitates to open the door, risking her being devoured by a wild cobra. The resulting quarrel between Eustacia and her husband make Wildeve to offer to elope with her to Paris where they both drown on the way. The entanglements of love in these novels are both the strength and the downfall of the protagonists.
Another similarity seems in the two book is the ultimate fates of the protagonists. Their end is marked by a dreadful tragedy that mad the books to be classified under the tragedies of Hardy. Hardy in these two novels categorically touches on the futility and fatality of love and the controversies that come with marriages that are based on the traditional customs and cultures of the present settings. He places his mains characters in the way of these custom and design as new members who will bring change amidst so much opposition. They are depicted as advances of mind, rebellious, and revolutionist who do not conform to the conventional way of life. It is this pursuit their ideals that leads them to their tragic end. This makes the writings of Hardy differ from those of the other writer in the Victorian era who gave a happy ending to their novels as the common style during that time. For that, characters presented in the two novels show some relatedness.
In Jude the Obscure, four characters drive the core themes that Hardy addresses in his writings, namely, love, marriage, sex, divorce, and status. These characters are Jude (the hero), Sue, Arabella, and Phillotson. Jude is in love with Sue but finds it hard to marry be with her because she keeps marrying Phillotson even though she doesn’t love him. Jude is also married to Arabella who she doesn’t love and still eyes sue. Finally, fate brings together under some illicit relationship but fails to live happily ever after. They final fated is sealed with those of their previous partners, Arabella and Phillotson. As Jude looks forward to making up with Sue, he dies in the process.
The same situation is presented in The Return of the Native, where the themes of love, relationship, marriage, sex, dreams, and status are depicted in four characters too, namely, Eustacia (the heroine), Clym, Wildeve, and Thomacin. Eustacia can be equated to Sue in the Jude the Obscure because she married to Clym and still dates Wildeve who she doesn’t love. She can also be equated to Jude in Jude the Obscure as they both play the lead role and shares the same fate of death at the end of the novels. Both of the Eustacia’s and Jude’s dreams hit a rocky end due to the entanglement of love. Jude fails to go to the Christminster University because Arabella lures him into marriage and when he tries to pursue it again he falls in love with Sue and eventually dies without achieving it. Eustacia, on the other hand, put on Clym that he will take him to Paris which was her dream but gets disappointed on finding out that Clym is not interested in going back to Paris. When she decides to elope with Wildeve to Paris in pursuit of her dreams, they drowned before achieving her dream. They share in tragic fate and impossibility of their dreams. Arabella can be equated to Thomacin because they are married to cheating husbands who are in love with other women apart from them. Clym shares the same fate with Phillotson by marrying women who are eyeing other men apart from them. Jude can also be equated to Wildeve because that are married to women they don’t love and indulge in illicit affairs with their true love at the same meet a terrible futility as they continue to pursue their true love.
It is, therefore, evidenced that The Return of the Native and Jude the Obscure are similar in many aspects. They show notable similarities in themes, character traits, incidence, fate, conclusion, and even the other himself. Themes like marriage, divorce, love affair, sex, social class, the futility of dreams, among others keep repeating themselves concurrently in the two books. The tragic ends to the two novels are marked by the death of the protagonists – Jude and Eustacia. Therefore the novels are classified together under the tragedies of Hardy.
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