A Glimpse Into the Philosophy of Jude the Obscure
In Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure, the reader is offered a brief but lucid insight into Jude's disposition and personality within the first few pages of the text. In the passage in question, Farmer Troutham has just concluded beating Jude for neglecting, or more appropriately, redefining his duties as a living scarecrow on Troutham's corn field. As Jude progresses on his journey home to his great-aunt's house, Hardy describes Jude's feelings and anxieties concerning the harming of anything living, and, more generally, he reveals Jude's "philosophy" of life. In doing so, however, Hardy also reveals a number of ideas common to his own philosophy, which become evident in the language and symbolism present in the text.
As he escapes Troutham's grasp and walks along the trackway, Hardy explains that Jude weeps "not from the pain, though that was keen enough; not from the perception of the flaw in the terrestrial scheme, by which what was good for God's birds was bad for God's gardener; but with the awful sense that he had wholly disgraced himself before he had been a year in the parish, and hence might be a burden to his great-aunt for life" (p. 15). Jude feels anxiety over the possibility that, because of his disgrace in failing to accomplish such a simple task, he will not be able to find work to lessen the burden on his great-aunt. Although this was the most prevalent reason for Jude's tears, the other two possibilities mentioned also play a role in the cause of his weeping. The pain from the beating, an obvious cause, would cause tears to well up in the eyes of any boy Jude's age. Although Hardy writes that the perception of a flaw in the terrestrial scheme is not the reason for Jude's tears, it is reasonable to assume that, like the pain, it is at least part of the reason. This assumption is reasonable for two reasons: first, because it coincides with the other characteristics of Jude's character so closely; and, second, because Hardy would probably not have mentioned it, even as a possibility, if it did not have relevance to Jude's particular disposition.
In the following paragraph, Hardy describes the "roundabout track" which Jude takes home in order to avoid encountering the village. The pasture behind the high hedge, which Jude chooses as his path home, is littered with "earthworms lying half their length on the surface of the damp ground" (p. 15). Hardy enhances the image of the vast numbers of earthworms in the final line of the paragraph:
It was impossible to advance in regular steps without crushing some of them at each tread. (p. 15)
In his use of "impossible," Hardy presents the idea that the pasture was impassable unless a certain number of earthworms were sacrificed. Later, at the end of the passage, Hardy, in portraying Jude's inability to harm, masterfully alludes to this image by describing Jude as "he carefully picked his way on tiptoe among the earthworms, without killing a single one" (p. 16). This potent use of imagery begins to open the door which leads to understanding Jude's nature. The door is fully opened in the beginning lines of the final paragraph.
In this final paragraph of the selected passage, Hardy presents Jude's character and disposition most clearly. He begins by exemplifying Jude's gentle nature:
Though Farmer Troutham had just hurt him, he was a boy who could not himself bear to hurt anything. (p. 15)
In this statement, Hardy illustrates the lack of vindictiveness or bitterness in Jude. Jude is angrier at himself than he is at Troutham. This precludes any desire for revenge, while strengthening the depiction of Jude's gentle and innocent nature. The paragraph continues in describing this nature by providing examples of events which would torture Jude's conscience and soul. The most lucid insight into Jude's psyche comes with the description of "late pruning, when the sap was up and the tree bled profusely" (p. 15). In the use of one word, "bled," Hardy offers a view into Jude's heart and mind, and allows the reader to actually see what Jude perceives: a tree bleeding from where the pruning-shears have made their cut; its precious blood running down its side and onto the ground.
In the lines that follow, however, Hardy describes Jude's disposition as a "weakness of character" (p. 15) because "he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before the fall of the curtain upon his unnecessary life should signify that all was well with him again" (p. 15). In this judgment of Jude, Hardy expresses some of his personal views concerning humans and their plight. In his poem "Hap," Hardy expresses his idea that what happens to Man is merely the result of chance, and that punishment and reward are not justly doled by a God. In the poem, after expressing his wish that "some vengeful god" would take credit for the sufferings in life, Hardy responds by declaring that this will not happen and that events are a result of accident and chance:
But not so. How arrives joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain. (l. 9, 10, 13, 14)
These ideas are reflected in the passage from Jude the Obscure. Hardy seems to pity Jude's fate because he feels that Jude will inevitably have to suffer. This idea that Jude's life will be one of suffering seems to extend into Hardy's personal view that many lives are riddled with suffering, but often for no just reason. Because of this, he refers to Jude's existence as "unnecessary," and only when it is over will all be well with Jude. In this sense, death signifies a long-awaited end to suffering; a suffering which is, for Jude, inevitable as a result of his gentle and meek nature.