Jude the Obscure and Social Darwinism Essay

927 Words 4 Pages
Jude the Obscure and Social Darwinism

Jude the Obscure is indeed a lesson in cruelty and despair; the inevitable by-products of Social Darwinism. The main characters of the book are controlled by fate's "compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power"(1), weakly resisting the influence of their own sexuality, and of society and nature around them.

Jude's world is one in which only the fittest survive, and he is clearly not equipped to number amongst the fittest. In keeping with the strong Darwinian undercurrents that run through the book, a kind of "natural selection" ensures that Jude's offspring do not survive to procreate either. Their death by murder and suicide is but one of many grisly instances of cruelty
…show more content…
Not like our poor boy here."(3)

Although the Widow Edlin's words refer to Jude's physical status, Hardy is also using them to comment on Jude as a societal and intellectual being. On that level too, he was clearly not fit enough to emerge triumphantly from the struggles of Darwinian society.

If Hardy's message is that only the fittest can escape nature and society's cruelties, then one must ask, which of the characters in the novel is most successful in the competitive atmosphere? Phillotson certainly achieves some measure of professional success as a schoolmaster, but like Jude, he too was unable to break into the echelons of university academia. Furthermore, despite marrying Sue, his union with her was less than successful. One gets the sense that in his one-sided love for Sue, Phillotson was swept along powerlessly by the tides of his own sexuality just as Jude was. Rather than pro-actively seeking to cultivate Sue's love for him or to gain some form of self-determination, he chose to remain meek and impassive, very much allowing Sue to determine the course that his life with her would take, if it was to be with her at all.

Is Sue then the prime candidate for social fitness in the work? Sue herself fought against the
Open Document