Jude the Obscure: The Relationship Between Point of View and Setting

In part one chapter two of the novel Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy the author depends upon external narration shifting freely to external omniscient narration in order to provide sufficient information about the village in which the main character, Jude, lives. The setting, Marygreen is situated in the agricultural region of Wessex in the south west of England. In the beginning of this chapter the point of view shifts from that of the main character, Jude, to the point of view of his aunt, Mrs Fawley.

This shifting narration constructs the ambience of Marygreen. The first part of this essay describes the oppressive nature of the place, where Jude resides. The external narrator depicts Marygreen as oppressive by intruding into the dialogue between the dominant characters, Jude’s aunt, and the villagers.

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The second part discusses the landscape setting and the events that are narrated from both Jude’s and an external omniscient point of view, which produce a representation of how the boy feels. The third part examines the use of external omniscience, which the narrator as authoritative voice reveals the setting of Marygreen and moreover establishes the reader perception of the boy’s place within this environment. The shifting point of view constructs Marygreen, partially, as an oppressive place which can be read as an analogy for Jude’s misfortunate life.

The narrator depicts the oppressive nature of Marygreen by intruding into the dialogue between the Mrs Fawley and the villagers. The aunt, at her private residence, entertains her village friends by talking about her nephew Jude. She constantly pities and undermines the boy. Her attitude towards Jude is exemplified in her statement; ‘It would ha’ been a blessing if Goddy-mighty had took thee too, wi’ thy mother and father, poor useless boy!’ (8).

She implies that it would have been better if Jude had died with his parents. This proves that he is not welcomed and loved. She is self-interested and gives Jude no attention and love. As a result Jude’s home environment is cold and remote. Mrs Fawley is unconscious of how her actions affect the boy’s feelings. For example, she says ‘Why do ye turn away, Jude?’ (8). Mrs Fawley demonstrates a lack of understanding that he feels embarrassed and scrutinised by her dramatising about his life. For Jude, the atmosphere that Mrs Fawley creates is very intimidating.

This is exemplified when the boy feels his aunt’s companions’ ‘glances like slaps upon his face’ (8). The reader may infer that Jude is sensitive and different, and this humiliation creates an oppressive situation for the boy. Later, Mrs Fawley refuses to acknowledge the comment made by one of her companions, the local washerwomen, who for instance says that Jude could ‘kip’ee company in your loneliness, fetch water ... help in the bit o’baking and (8).

This is typified when she replies back ‘I doubt it’ (8). The aunt implies that regardless of her companions seeing the boy as being of help in everyday chores, she still continues to demean Jude by wishing him gone. This is exemplified when she says ‘Why didn’t ge the schoolmaster to take ‘ee to Christminster wi’ un, and make a scholar of ‘ee ... ’the boy is crazy for books’ (8).

In this line Mrs Fawley acknowledges Jude as being the book ‘type.’ In other words she implies that he does not fit in, as being different to her, and it would be better if he had gone with the schoolmaster. When Jude enquires about the beautiful city, she responds by saying ‘It is a place much too good for you ever to have much to do with, poor boy’ (12).

Mrs Fawley iterates the same thing, pitying Jude over and over, and the reader gets a clear perception of how the boy feels. She wants him to believe that he is not creditable to think about Christminister. In actual fact, she contradicts herself from the previous statement, where, she wished him gone to that city. The reader may infer that Jude’s yearning for that family love that he never attained at his aunt’s home, will shape him into the lonesome individual, and consequently affect his future conducts.

In this part the narrator discusses the setting of the cornfield and the rooks pecking on it, to represent Jude’s feelings and the mood of the place that is projected from both the boy’s and external omniscient point of view. After being humiliated by his aunt, Jude in his oppressive moods descends into the sunken cornfield and the omniscient narrator describes it as ‘the brown surface of the field ... lost by degrees in the mist that shut out the actual verge and accentuated the solitude’ (9). The omniscient narrator uses this landscape as a metaphor to represents how the boy feels.

The external omniscient narrator implies that the boy’s life may be obscured and shut in solitude as this cornfield, encircled with the mist. The reader may infer that the desolate cornfield environment may depict Jude’s character as one who lacks associations with his ancestors past and thus sets him as individual who has no place of belonging. This is exemplified when Jude thinks; ‘trodden now by hardly knew whom, though once by many of his own dead family’ (9).

The narrator implies that the boy is cut from the past and his life is limited and continues in obscurity. The reader may infer that boy is bound to a similar faith as his predecessors. When Jude gets into the cornfield, he begins to make a noise to disturb the rooks pecking on Mr Troutham’s farm. Once, Jude gets tired, he realises that they ‘seemed, like himself, to be living in the world which did not want them’ (10). This setting functions as both a realistic and symbolic representation of the boy’s own life.

The narrator implies that rooks are trying to fit into the world in which they do not belong. Jude sympathises with them, and in his consciousness believes that they need as much understanding as him. Both rooks and Jude are disturbed and scared by so much noise around them. Jude sees birds as ‘the only friend he could claim as being in the least degree interested in him’ (10). The narrator implies how lonely and sad the boy is.

The reader may infer about the boy’s inner turmoil and his need to find consolation in nature. Jude’s beliefs that the ‘farmer Troutham can afford to let [birds] have dome, dinner’ (10), creates a setting where from the boy’s point of view, the world is projected as innocent and perfect, but unrealistic from the perspective of everyday life on the farm. Eventually the boy gets disturbed by the ugliness of the ‘great Troutham himself, his red face glaring down upon Jude’s cowering frame’ (10).

The harsh reality is exemplified when the boy gets scorned and belted by the farmer, for being soft and generous, and letting the birds exploit his property. This understanding of the way nature operates is contrary to Jude’s awareness and he perceives ‘the noises and glares [which] hit upon the little cell called your life’ (13), as the negative vibes absorbed upon his soul. The reader may infer that as a consequence, his life is shaken. Later on, the reader learns and may infer that Jude’s sensitivity to see the world differently, explains, why he seeks an education, and why those interests nurture his mind and spirit. 

In this part Hardy depends upon an external omniscient narrator where he uses the landscape as a setting and as a character to discuss about the people and their way of life in Marygreen and also to represent Jude’s ignorant and oppressive understandings of the country life. The full omniscient narrator represents the setting of the Marygreen field as a metaphorical expression; ‘the fresh harrow-lines seemed to stretch like the channelling in a piece of new corduroy, lending a meanly utilitarian air to the expanse (9).

The external omniscient narrator describes life on the land where people’s work is stretched into patterns of the corduroy; which means a rough cotton material. The narrator depicts corduroy as a symbolic representation for the mean working utilitarian class. The narrator describes how the land has many good and many bad attributes that Jude cannot see, due to him being different, and due to a lack of love to understand it better; ‘every inch of ground had been, first or last, of energy, gaiety, horse- play...bickerings, weariness. Groups of gleaners had squatted in the sun on every square yard’ (9).

The full omniscience implies that the land is associated with happy and cheerful things such as horse play or gaiety but also weariness and bickering. The omniscience voice portrays the land as a character where it absorbs all the good and bad. The boy Jude cannot see any beauty, any positive occurrences on these grounds. The narrator implies this by stating ‘neither Jude nor the rocks around him considered, for them it was a lonely place...a granary good to feed in’ (9).

The narrator implies that Jude perceives the land as a means of feeding and work and nothing beyond that. The reader may get the wider picture of the place and infer that the boy’s negative views are developed due to his oppressive upbringing and due to him being different. Also this setting hints to the reader what might happen to Jude in the future. In this line, ‘under the hedge which divided the field from a distant plantation girls had given themselves to lovers who would not turn their heads to look at them by next harvest’ (9). The omniscient narrator implies that Jude, who is naive and inexperienced, may be trapped into the cycle of giving himself for the comfort of being loved. The reader learns later on that Jude’s ambitious is foreshadowed by Arabella, a crafty girl who seduces him into marriage. 

In conclusion, the narrator by shifting into the minds of different characters and external omniscient narration manages to bring to the reader, the closest attributes of Jude’s character. It seems that no matter how determined Jude is with his vision and attempts to fit in, he is inventible to attract misunderstandings. Jude is perceived as the child of misfortune, continuing the faith of his ancestor deeds. 

Works Cited

Hardy, T. (Ed.). (1993). Jude the Obscure. Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Edition Limited.



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