Jude the Obscure and Social Darwinism Essay
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Jude the Obscure and Social Darwinism
Jude the Obscure is indeed a lesson in cruelty and despair; the inevitable by-products of Social Darwinism. The main characters of the book are controlled by fate's "compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power"(1), weakly resisting the influence of their own sexuality, and of society and nature around them.
Jude's world is one in which only the fittest survive, and he is clearly not equipped to number amongst the fittest. In keeping with the strong Darwinian undercurrents that run through the book, a kind of "natural selection" ensures that Jude's offspring do not survive to procreate either. Their death by murder and suicide is but one of many grisly instances of cruelty…show more content…
Not like our poor boy here."(3)
Although the Widow Edlin's words refer to Jude's physical status, Hardy is also using them to comment on Jude as a societal and intellectual being. On that level too, he was clearly not fit enough to emerge triumphantly from the struggles of Darwinian society.
If Hardy's message is that only the fittest can escape nature and society's cruelties, then one must ask, which of the characters in the novel is most successful in the competitive atmosphere? Phillotson certainly achieves some measure of professional success as a schoolmaster, but like Jude, he too was unable to break into the echelons of university academia. Furthermore, despite marrying Sue, his union with her was less than successful. One gets the sense that in his one-sided love for Sue, Phillotson was swept along powerlessly by the tides of his own sexuality just as Jude was. Rather than pro-actively seeking to cultivate Sue's love for him or to gain some form of self-determination, he chose to remain meek and impassive, very much allowing Sue to determine the course that his life with her would take, if it was to be with her at all.
Is Sue then the prime candidate for social fitness in the work? Sue herself fought against the
Jude’s hardships and suffering in life due to the hypocrisy of the education system certainly does provoke sympathy, but here it may be more of a by-product of the exploitation of life. Hardy presents a cruel reality of life, crushing the hopes and dreams of a poor boy’s search for a meaningful existence and a determination to see the world through an educated scholar’s eyes, but is pitilessly rejected consistently. Hardy reveals the lie behind the widely held belief that hard work, talent and determination were sufficient enough for individuals to achieve success regardless of their background. He describes Christminster as ‘the city of the light’a place he had likened to the New Jerusalem.’ The biblical references, on the surface suggest the education system to be place full of prosperity, open-mindedness and kindness much like the expectations of the Church, in fact this is how Jude perceives it for a greater part of his life. However as the novel progresses it becomes a source of bitterness and defeat for Jude because although Jude lacked the rigorous training necessary to qualify for a fellowship, he was a naturally intelligent and driven man but due to the mere fact that he was a stone mason, a person of lower class ‘had better stick to his place’. He is therefore prevented from gaining economic mobility. This theme of unattainable education was personal for Hardy since he, like Jude, had not been able to afford to study for a degree at Oxford or Cambridge, in spite of his early interest in scholarship and the classics . This reflects Hardy’s own view of the meaningless and absurdity of life, mirrored by Jude’s eventual demise in faith in God. Here the bluntness of ‘better stick to his place’ not only highlight the hypocrisy of society but also presents Hardy’s most pessimistic statement that the inability of human beings to escape the determination forces of nature, society and internal compulsion. Both Jude and Meursault are a threat to the neatly structured and ridiculously rigid system that had been indoctrinated upon their societies. Even though they are from different centuries Jude and Meursault as well as Hardy and Camus come together in their mutual contempt for people’s desire to not liberalise and to stay unchanged.
Within The Outsider and Jude the Obscure, Camus and Hardy created highly controversial characters who illicit different responses. This may be because both novels were written in a time of social and economic upheaval, a time many individuals felt disassociated by the societies in which they live. Therefore, the characters of Meursault and Jude are a reflection of those who did not conform to the conventional and ideal display of behaviour they were condemned for and which eventually led to their demise. Personally, the simple utterances and the excessive use of the pronoun “I” Camus deliberately employed forced the reader to be more disconnected from Meursault as well posing as a barrier from engaging with the story itself, therefore reinforcing that Meursault is merely a vessel, an extreme construct of unsympathetic outcast, to which he can express his social criticism and philosophy of life. Similarly, it is largely possible that Hardy too intended for that, however despite being presented as an outcast Jude evoked sympathy because Hardy sought to demonstrate the injustice and hypocritical nature of the Victorian society. Therefore, to the extent to which these characters represent disassociation and alienation, sympathy becomes not quite irrelevant but certainly less important because the audience’s perspective is not so much about the individual characters but more the symbolism of which they represent.