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Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure
by Thomas Hardy
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Jude the Obscure Theme of Gender

Hardy breaks a ton of barriers, people. While Sue Bridehead might not be the ideal poster child for the feminist movement, with her indecisiveness and her change of heart at the end of the novel, she is definitely way ahead of her time. Her views on marriage and the independence of women resemble our contemporary ideas way more than a lot of the other characters' in Jude the Obscure. Still, while Hardy uses Sue to take aim at a lot of the ignorant, prejudiced ideas about women circulating in his time, he is still not above creating Arabella, the totally two-dimensional, gold-digging, villainous woman antagonist.

Questions About Gender

  1. Sue says, 'she has no fear of men.' How does this affect the way she acts in Victorian society?
  2. Sue is often seen as the rebel when it comes to female characters in the novel. How could you argue that Arabella is also rebellious against gender roles in her own way?
  3. How does Hardy link the idea of honor to the idea of being a man?
  4. Does Hardy portray men differently from the way he portrays women? If there is no difference, how might that be significant to his approach towards gender in the novel? If he does distinguish between the two genders, how might that also be important to our understanding of gender in Jude the Obscure?
  5. If you were making a movie of the book, who would play Sue Bridehead?
  6. Hardy takes aim at the venerable institutions of the Church and higher education. What institutions do you think Hardy would take aim at if he were writing a similar story today? (And no, he would not be a reanimated zombie while writing—then his only issue would be braaaaaiiiiiins.)

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

While Jude the Obscure strongly criticizes assumptions about gender that were particularly rigid in the Victorian era, we still recognize a lot of the same debates in the novel as ongoing issues today.

Hardy's portrayal of the elitism of Christminster's university culture continues to ring true today, as higher education becomes more and more expensive and difficult to access for working class kids.

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