In Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Hardy shows his views on religion and commitment to the Church which were said to have declined in the later years of his life. (Ingham, xxvii) Throughout the book, Hardy displays his feeling that religion is something that people use in order to satisfy themselves by giving their lives meaning. One instance in which Hardy clearly displays this is when he writes, “It had been the yearning of his heart to find something to anchor on, to cling to.” (Ingham, 94) In order to bring out this point Hardy chooses to create Jude as an orphan and has him come from obscure origins. By doing this he creates a character who is looking for something to give him an identity. As a result of his relationship with Mr. Phillotson (who leaves for Christminster in order to become ordained), he finds religion and feels that he can use it to help him gain an identity.

Hardy feels that people should shy away from their old ways of thinking and begin to form new opinions of their own. He feels that people should not just blindly follow religion without deciding for themselves that this is what they want. People should not be like Jude who becomes obsessed with religion simply because his mentor Phillotson felt this way. One of the major reasons that causes Hardy to have these views is that he feels religion leads to hypocrisy. He feels that man has many desires that go against the laws of religion, and these desires lead man to feel very hypocritical. These feelings of hypocrisy then cause man to have many inner conflicts that lead to many problems.

This negativity towards religion is seen both through symbols in the book and in the plot itself. The symbols that convey this message are the name Jude, which is an allusion to Judas Iscariot who was a traitor to Jesus. The name Jude can also be a reference to the wandering Jew. The second symbol is Christminster. Christminster symbolizes a world in which Jude sees how remarkable the Church is, but it is a place that exists only in Jude’s imagination. Another symbol that we encounter is that of Samson who is symbolic of man going after women that are forbidden to him. We also encounter a reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, which is used to question God by asking why the righteous suffer. Finally, the job Jude chooses is also symbolic of the anti-religious attitude that is shown.

The negativity towards religion is first revealed in the name Jude. Jude is an allusion to Judas Iscariot. Judas betrayed Jesus to his enemy for thirty pieces of silver. He identified Jesus to the soldiers by kissing him, and this is what led to Jesus’s death. He later returned the money he received to kill Jesus and then went off and killed himself. Jude’s life seems to contain many similarities to Judas’s life. When Jude was in his younger years he had strong feelings towards religion. Jude began to move away from God as his life progressed. This occurred when he started to feel the guilt that arose from his feelings for Sue. These feelings of guilt caused Jude to move away from the Church and “betray” God, as he states, “The Church is no more to me.” (Ingham, 221)

By making the comparison to Judas, Hardy is conveying to us the message that religion causes one to feel very unsure of oneself. Judas’s life is filled with uncertainty; at first he is very religious and spends much time with Jesus. He then abruptly betrays Jesus for a mere thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. He is very unsure of himself and it is the hypocrisy that seems to eat away at him until he can longer take it, and as a result he ends up killing himself. Jude is very unsure of himself when it comes to religion, mirroring Judas. At first, he wants to be ordained, but, only because he wants to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Phillotson. He then is no longer able to keep his religious views because he cannot live with the fact that they go against his deepest desires to be with Sue. As with Judas, religion causes Jude to act very hypocritically. Jude wanted to be religious, yet at the same time he wanted to remain together with Sue. Finally, Jude can longer cope with all these feelings of guilt and confusion and he is forced to leave the Church.

Thus we see that religion causes someone to be very confused and act in a very hypocritical manner. Hardy feels that these feelings are not necessary and could be avoided by avoiding religion. Had Jude and Sue not fallen into the “trap” of religion, it is very probable that the whole story would have been different, and would have ended on much brighter note. Had Jude and Sue not had the conflict of religion they would have been able to marry each other without having any guilty feelings. They also would have been able to avert any ill feelings that the towns’ people had felt towards them.

The word Jude can mean the wandering Jew. By calling the main character of the book Jude, Hardy is making a reference to a group of people who believe in God and are classified as wandering. By using this allusion Hardy is trying to convey to us that the path of religion is not one that has a true destination, but rather it is one of fallacy that leaves people wandering. Hardy further illustrates this point by making Jude a “wanderer.” Jude is a wanderer both literally and figuratively. Literally we see him wandering from place to place to find work, and figuratively we see him searching for his own identity.

We encounter negativity towards religion by the town called Christminster. Christminster can be broken down into Christ and minister. At first, Christminster is symbolic of a place that is supposed to be wonderful like the world of the Church. It is likened to the Church by the phrases in which Hardy uses to describe it. He writes that Jude sees Christminster as “the city of the light,” in fact it is seen as “a place he had likened to the new Jerusalem,” the city of redemption. (Ingham, 85) These biblical references lead us to make a religious connection between the Church and Christminster.

Christminster is also seen as a place where he hopes to fulfill all his hopes and dreams. “From the beginning, Jude sees in Christminster and its university the image of an attainable ideal world. His desire for this ideal vision involves a rejection of reality. For his own sporadically controlled, partially understood world, he substitutes the image of an ideal unified, stable, and understandable one.” (Bloom, 193)

However, this wonderful world exists only in Jude’s imagination. He does this in order to escape his complicated reality. Hardy is trying to tell us that we should not fall into the same predicament as Jude; we should not allow ourselves to run after religion as an escape from our problems because it will only lead to hardships. We see Hardy’s message as Jude encounters many major rejections in Christminster; included in these are his not getting into any of the colleges he desired to attend and his love Sue leaving him for Phillotson.

Here we see that the two major goals that Jude had hoped to achieve in Christminster both remained unfulfilled. What Hardy is trying to tell us is that in many instances religion may seem to be the path to take. However, after one delves deep into the meaning of religion he finds, as Jude does in Christminster, that while it may seem great from a distance, it is actually just filled with many letdowns. Thus, the view on religion is: it seems to be the “light” we should follow, but, it is actually only an illusion.

Hardy shows that Jude’s desire to go to Christminster and dedicate himself to the church stemmed from his admiration of Phillotson. By saying this, Hardy is telling us that it was not Jude’s own true wish to be a part of the Church, but rather he was just following someone there. He then realizes that with his true feelings he cannot continue to follow the Church because it would be hypocritical. What Jude is realizing is that one must choose his own path and should not feel compelled to follow God, if he does not come to the conclusion himself.

When Jude and Arabella go walking together, they stop at an inn to drink tea. At this time Hardy makes mention of the picture on the wall. The hanging picture is of Samson and Delilah. Samson, although a fighter for his nation, was not someone who strictly adhered to the laws of religion. Samson showed his lack of adhesion to the laws of the bible by sleeping with three forbidden women. This is very similar to Jude who is going after the “forbidden woman” (forbidden because she is his cousin). Samson is thus a symbol of one going against the proper views of the bible, like Jude.

By bringing up Samson at such a time Hardy is trying to tell us something. He is trying to tell us that even though one of the great heroes of the bible has gone and committed sin with forbidden women, he was still able to become a hero. Hardy, therefore, brings this to our attention to show us that religion is not necessary in order for one to lead a successful life.

By making this reference Hardy is trying to make Jude into a tragic hero. This is done through the mention of Samson. Hardy is saying that as Samson Jude is also a hero. While Samson was a hero because of his strength and ability to triumph in battle, Jude is a hero because he has the strength to fight against what society deems to be acceptable (the ways of the Church). Jude is not swayed like most by what others feel he should do, but rather he is a fighter.

Hardy compares Jude to Jesus in many instances, one of which is when Jude is angry at Sue for marrying Phillotson. This comparison is brought up when Jude and Sue are talking about which inn to go to, in order to avoid being seen by others. Here we have Jude intending to commit adultery with Sue and we have Hardy comparing him to Jesus. Although in the end of the seen Jude and Sue do not end up sleeping with each other, at the time the comparison to Jesus is made, it is Jude’s intention to sleep with Sue.

“You simply mean that you flirted outrageously with him, poor old chap, and then to make reparation, married him, though you tortured yourself to death by doing it.”

“Well-if you will put it brutally!–it was like that-that and the scandal together-and you concealing from me what you have told me before!”

He could see that she was distressed and tearful at his criticisms, and soothed her saying, “There, dear; don’t mind! Crucify me if you will! You know you are the world to me, whatever you do!” (Hardy, 216)

In this instance, Hardy’s negative views towards religion are seen. We encounter Jude and Sue arguing about her feelings for Phillotson. Once Jude realizes that he has caused Sue to feel bad he immediately tries to comfort her. Here Hardy compares Jude to Jesus by having him say “crucify me if you will.”

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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