Passion Versus Moral Duty Illustrated in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure

Conflict between a character’s intense passions and their moral duties is commonly expressed in literature. Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure undoubtedly uses this theme throughout the novel. Hardy creates two characters who are undeniably in love, however, they are forced to hide their great passions for one another for they both are married to someone else. These intimate feelings drive to two lovers, Jude and Sue, to neglect their commitments to their spouses and aspirations as they attempt to establish a life together.

The intimacy between the couple would slowly devour their personal lives. Jude, the man in the relationship, had exceptionally high hopes for himself as a young boy. He desired nothing else but to go to school, to gain knowledge, and become an important figure within the church. At first, Jude’s determination seems unwavering as he faces rejection after rejection from numerous schools. However, after he meets his dear Sue, Jude begins accept the idea of keeping his occupation of a stonemason and giving up the idea of attending any university.

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As Jude and Sue’s relationship grows, it is clear how head-over- heel in love with Sue Jude truly is. His desires change as school and his future occupation become a small priority compared to gaining Sue’s love. In addition, Jude’s passions for Sue lead him to disregard one other large component of his life, his eccentric wife Arabella. Although, Jude had previously made this permanent covenant with another woman, he could not help but dream of one day marrying Sue. 

Likewise, Sue was already involved with an old schoolteacher named Phillotson. Sue was not especially fond of him but marriage is marriage and she nevertheless made the ultimate commitment to him. However, as unavailable as the two lovers were, they continued to nourish their fiery feelings. Torn between the man she loved and her social responsibilities as a wife, Sue was at a loss of what to do.

She knew the lady society expected her to be, but she could never fully bring herself to accept such an unfulfilling life. Therefore, after months of torturing herself in a miserable marriage, Sue succumbed to her true feelings and left Phillotson to be with Jude. Jude, as well, had decided to divorce his wife in order to properly be with Sue but with much less debate and toil than Sue when making her decision. 

Despite their undying affection for one another, their decisions to disregard their marital commitments to their previous spouses were selfish and unforgiving. The universe simply would not allow Sue and Jude to go unpunished for their sin. Society constantly rejected their unlawful relationship and those who knew of their histories shunned the couple. The lovers received the worst punishment of all when they found that their three children had hung themselves due to feelings of illegitimacy.

Opening the eyes of Sue, this dreadful event caused her to give in to her responsibilities and leave Jude. She returned to Phillotson in order to repent for allowing her passions to get the best of her. Discontented by her decision and with nowhere else to go, Jude too returns to his rightful wife. The broken – hearted pair reaccept their original obligations within their separate relationships and go on to finish their lives unhappy and ultimately alone.

The tragic ending to the novel, perhaps demonstrates how surrendering to private passions may mean overlooking our responsibilities. In attempt to create a life together, Sue and Jude had to neglect their commitments made to their previous spouses. Is ignoring these promises and following their hearts truly a terrible mistake that deserves a rash punishment or should have these lovers been able to successfully accomplish a happy life? 

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