Jude the Obscure: Metaphor Analysis
The Fourways is literally a crossroads in the center of Christminster. Jude stands at the Fourways at several important points in the novel. At one point, he sees there the many working people of the town and grasps that their lives, not the lives conducted behind the colleges’ stone walls, are the heart and life of the city: “It had more history than any college in the city. It was literally teeming, stratified, with the shades of human groups, who had met there for tragedy, comedy, farce; real enactments of the intensest kind. At Fourways men had stood and talked of Napoleon, the loss of America, the execution of King Charles, the burning of the Martyrs, the Crusades, the Norman Conquest, possibly the arrival of Caesar. Here the two sexes had met for loving, hating, coupling, and parting; had waited, had suffered, for each other; had triumphed over each other; cursed each other in jealousy; blessed each other in forgiveness.”
The Fourways represent moments in Jude’s life when he must make an important decision—as when he lays aside his dreams of scholarship and enters fully into the life of the laboring class. The Fourways also represents moments in Jude’s life when chance events, oblivious to his will, shape his life. He stands at Fourways, for example, on the day when Arabella tells him about her Australian husband, trying to decide what to do, which road to take next. Sue’s sudden and unexpected appearance shapes his path by bringing her back into his life at a time when he is trying to avoid the temptation to be near her.
The Fourways, like other literary crossroads and forking paths, represents decisions that, once made, take one’s life in one direction and, of necessity, away from others.
Traps and Snares
At several points in the novel, Hardy uses traps and snares to reinforce ideas about Jude and Sue. For instance, Sue and Jude, sleeping in separate houses, hear a rabbit trapped in a snare. They cannot sleep as they imagine the animal’s suffering and its desperate but futile desire to escape the trap. Finally, to Sue’s relief, Jude dispatches the animal. Sue is at this time realizing what her marriage to Phillotson means and writhing in agony within that trap—one she walked into willingly. Phillotson also uses language related to traps and snares when he speaks of releasing Sue from their marriage, refusing to be her “gaoler” or to keep her “chained.”
A similar image comes when Jude and Sue must leave Aldbrickham because their relationship has destroyed their reputation. A poulterer buys Sue’s pet pigeons; but she, unable to bear what will happen to them, releases them—an act of robbery. It was “wicked” of her, she tells Jude, who pays the poulterer for the birds and doesn’t scold Sue. He understands her identification with the birds and her fear of being entrapped in a marriage again.
Books, Latin, and Greek
Jude’s books are with him from early in the novel through the scene of his death. From the first old Latin and Greek grammars that Phillotson sends him, to the more advanced works he is able to buy, with difficulty, during his teens, and on, they represent his successes and failures in seeking education. At first, his desire to get them and his diligence in studying them suggest that he will gain his goal of scholarship. They teach him Latin and Greek, which, as the languages of scholars, are the keys to study in Christminster. Arabella’s treatment of Jude’s “dear old classics”—as impediments to his “real” work and reminders of their poverty—suggest how opposed in character she and Jude are. When Jude decides to become a preacher and “reads up Divinity,” the books take on a new meaning: They represent his defense against the temptation that his love for Sue poses. When he burns the divinity books to ashes, they represent the failure of theology to reform that love.
The core of Jude’s small library stays with him through all the moves he and Sue and then he and Arabella make. They sit on the shelf, “roughened with the stone-dust where he had been in the habit of catching them up for a few minutes between his labours,” in the room where he dies. If Sue is identified with traps and snares in the novel, Jude is identified with his precious Latine and Greek books, the only doors into the life of the scholar that he can pass through.
The central metaphor in the book is the town of Christminster. Modeled on the real city of Oxford, where teaching began in 1096 and where a system of colleges grew in the subsequent centuries. By the fourteenth century, Oxford was a preeminent seat of learning in Europe, but in Hardy’s time (and Jude’s), enrollment was largely the privilege of the wealthy and the well-connected.
For Jude, Christminster is not merely a place; it is an idea. When he first catches glimpses of its lights on the horizon from Marygreen, it is a city of light. He thinks of it as a “ heavenly Jerusalem,” tied to a rich past and pointed to the promise of a bright future, holy and good. He also thinks of it as a new Eden, where the tree of knowledge must flourish. But Jude’s characterization of the town changes over time. Its stone walls and gates become not warders of knowledge but barriers to those seeking knowledge. By day they seem imbued with history, but by day they seem “pompous” and “barbaric.” The spirits of former learned men, who at first seem to encourage Jude’s studies, turn hostile at the end of his life, laughing at him. Yet Jude never gives up completely his love for Christminster because it represents for him the love of learning that he sustains till the end of his life. It is as if Jude can hold, against reality, an ideal of Christminster as it could be. On the day he dies—graduation day—Christminster’s “bells struck out joyously, and their reverberations travelled around the room” where Jude’s body lies. The bells are, of course, in honor of the day’s graduates; but they seem to be for Jude as well, for the would-be “son of the University.”