Biological determinism and the development of tragic characters in 'Jude the Obscure'

Term Paper, 2007

21 Pages, Grade: 1,7




Character and development of Sue Bridehead

Jude Fawley: a biologically determined figure

The gloomy quality of Jude the Obscure


Primary Literature

Secondary Literature



In Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure various aspects of dealing with the development of characters, contriving new ways of narration in 19th century English literature and also the influence of autobiographical references reveal themselves to not only squeamish readers.

The following examination of Hardy’s last novel is based on the impacts of biological determinism on the development and the course of action of Sue Bridehead and Jude Fawley. Additionally the way Hardy’s novel was conceived and how the roles of Sue and Jude actively shaped this gloomy novel will be examined. Both tragic characters will be paid equal attention to, as far as an acute analysis of their traits of character and a connection with theories of determinism is concerned. Furthermore there will be a short discourse on Hardy’s process of contrivance of figures which will be directly and explicitly related to the different fall of both characters. Especially the fateful evolution of Jude Fawley, the tragic main character, will be debated.

The difficulties of analyzing the existence of biological determinism in Jude the Obscure are of various stamping. While a determinist can easily give a detailed description of his theoretical knowledge or approach, one must read between the lines and rely on a huge accumulation of tiny hints discovered amid all passages of the novel to actually distinguish the effects of biological determinism on Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead.

An isolated view of both characters is helpful at first but finally is uncovered as insufficient. Jude’s and Sue’s course of action and mutual interaction have to be considered to make it clear to the reader of the examination at hand that the determined development of both characters is realized by the way one influences the other.

Characters will be dealt with separately but at the same time not without paying attention to the influence of the other. Several essays by D.H. Lawrence, A. Alvarez, Albert J. Guerard, Arthur McDowall and J.I.M. Stewart were consulted to make it possible not only to point at theories of all kinds but to really relate personal cognitions to bare facts and make interpretation possible.

Character and development of Sue Bridehead

The subsequent analysis will deal with the seemingly odd character of the alleged heroine Sue Bridehead and the way Sue changes during the evolvement of the plot.

It is of great importance to initially explain the term biological determinism. A scientist who claims to refer to the theories of biological determinism would argue that humans – their appearance, behavior, and even long-term fate – are entirely determined by genes. He would ascribe any change in a person’s character to a change in genes and finally a change in the phenotype. Relating such a theory to the process of characterization makes it necessary to compare a character’s behaviour to assumed inherent values such as traits of character or personal past experiences.

In Sue we can detect various forms of biological determinism and will slowly but certainly discover that a change in behaviour has, to a certain extent, to be attributed to social circumstances and events occurring while in frequent interaction with Jude, another determined individual pointed at later. Sue and Jude who, against all social conventions, generate a benign but in the end painful relationship throughout Jude the Obscure, are cousins. Jude’s utterance that it “ ’[…] was always impressed upon [him] […] not to marry […] [because he] belonged to an odd and peculiar family […]’ ”1 is directly confirmed by Sue.2 Their relationship and mutual affection is hampered by the fact that both believe in their relatives and parents statement not to be appropriate for marriage because of the matrimonial failure within their pedigree. Determination obliges them to assume that “[…] a union between them, had such been possible, would have meant a terrible intensification of unfitness – two bitters in one dish.”3

The fact that both are cousins makes it the more difficult to not always reflect upon the moral correctness of their circle of feelings. The ongoing plot of Hardy’s last novel shows further causes of deterministic assumptions as far as development and, especially, manner of character is concerned. Sue and Jude are, as mentioned above, affected by their mutual statement about their naturally determined failure related to marriage. The obviously socially induced marriage of Mr. Phillotson, a well reputed, elderly teacher, and Sue Bridehead is justified by her in an immature way. While talking to Jude about her well-being in this matrimonial relationship she assures him that Phillotson is “ ’[…] as good to [her] as a man [could] be, and [gave] [her] perfect liberty – which elderly husbands [didn’t] do in general […].’ ”4 Her statement has nothing to do with affectionate love. Sue resorts to conventional values of 19th century society to justify her well-being in an essentially unwilling matrimonial relationship but also questions her own attitude.5

While struggling with Jude about her feelings towards him, and the incongruousness of being married and additionally meeting him furtively, Sue admits to not being happily married and desperately seeks reasons for her behaviour in her own personality.6 She seems to enjoy her uncomfortable situation and tortures herself by talking about her innate feelings in an ignoble way but offering them to Jude.7

In contrast to that, a surprising realisation of societal pressure on individual actions of human beings occurs in Sue’s propositions. She, thought to be eccentric or supersensitive, comes to the conclusion that “ ’[…] [d]omestic laws should be made according to temperaments, which should be classified.’ “8 She seems to have realised that “ ‘[i]f people are at all peculiar in character they have to suffer from the very rules that produce comfort in others […].’ “9 This realization takes place when pleading with her formal husband, Mr. Phillotson, to let her go and live with Jude although a matrimonial bound had legally been established.

After Phillotson had been so graceful to respect Sue’s feelings and let her, against all moral conventions, go to Jude, Sue still remains critical towards her emotions and her innate personality.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


Biological determinism and the development of tragic characters in 'Jude the Obscure'
University of Bamberg
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Biological, Jude, Obscure
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Jan Teichelmann (Author), 2007, Biological determinism and the development of tragic characters in 'Jude the Obscure', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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