Throughout Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy develops many ideas through the use of irony. One of the major themes Hardy develops in this manner is education. Hardy invokes this technique in order to instill a thorough comprehension within the reader. Education comes to the forefront in Jude the Obscure. Everything that transpires in Jude’s life contains some type of ironic twist; however, his aspirations to attain an education stand out. Despite his valiant efforts, universities in the town of Christminster deny him what he aspires towards.
Irony, particularly in the form of education, predominates all of what occurs in the Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.
Irony results from Jude’s general knowledge. Although very fluent in Latin, Jude is not able to gain acceptance into any university. Jude’s Latin acumen is tested when he is challenged in a bar to recite the Creed by other patrons. Jude then states the Creed in perfect Latin. Undergraduates present pay little attention to what Jude is proclaiming.
Everyone else in the bar is surprised that Jude had actually known how to speak another tongue.
This shocks the people in the bar so much so that “a silence reigned among the rest in the bar, and the maid stood still, Jude’s voice echoing sonorously into the inner parlour, where the landlord was dozing, brining him out to see what was going on” (98). Overcoming the doubts of others, Jude is able to speak Latin flawlessly. By surprising all present, Jude shows that his educational background, though meager, does afford him the opportunity to study in a university.
However, these universities continually discard him solely for social purposes.
Ironically, some of the well-to-do people, who are automatically selected by the university as a result of their social stance, may not have the same intelligence level that Jude displays. The knowledge that Jude presents in the bar should have been enough for him to be able to receive the education that he desperately yearns for. However, despite all he knows, he is denied an education, while some, especially the undergraduates in the bar, do not appreciate the opportunity they have been given.
Educational irony occurs in many other patterns in Hardy’s novel. Jude’s encounter with the police officer represents another example of an ironic situation. When Jude is delivering his aunt’s goods to her customers via horse and buggy, he trains the horse to learn the route. Once this occurs, he reads and studies his books as he continues to accomplish his appointed occupation. However, complaints about this practice do result from some residents. So much so that “the police man thereupon lay in wait for Jude, and one day accosted him and cautioned him” (28). However, Hardy vaguely states what “cautioned” represents in this case.
Moreover, by indirectly informing Jude that books are dangerous, the policeman’s cautioning of Jude is ironic. This advisory, albeit unclear, foreshadows the eventual trouble Jude will have fulfilling his dream of entering a university. Jude believes that just living in Christminster warrants a university education. He does not realize the social aspect that is associated with education in the city and how intricate and complex this system has become. The policeman’s advice represents the hardships that Jude will face in the coming years. Overlooking this advice, Jude is destined for disappointment. The uneducated policeman is able to see what Jude is blind to. By not heeding the policeman’s caution and by assuming that education in Christminster is uncomplicated, Jude sets himself up for failure.
Jude’s ambition and motivation to receive a higher education far outweighs anyone else’s in the country, maybe even the world. Perhaps it is ironic, then, that, despite his yearning and his dedication, he fails at his ultimate goal, as others, who are less motivated and less committed, take education for granted. Jude learns about Christminster from the departed schoolmaster, Mr. Philloston. From that moment onward, Jude devotes his life to someday reaching Christminster and improving himself via education. Speaking of Philloston and Christminster, the narration states:
And the city acquired a tangibility, a permanence, and hold on his life, mainly from the one nucleus of fact that the man for whose knowledge and purposes he had so much reverence was actually living there; not only so, but living among the more thoughtful and mentally shining ones therein. 20 From this, the reader learns vividly of Jude’s desperation to be among those who share the same thirst for knowledge that he does. Jude wants to be surrounded by intellectual equals and people who love knowledge and books as much as he does. Daily, Jude sneaks off to the Brown House in order to view the city of Christminster. There, he contemplates his dreams of the future while “sometimes being rewarded by the sight of a dome or spire” (20). The narration also describes Jude’s relationship with Christminster, saying, “Jude was getting romantically attached to Christminster that, like a young lover alluding to his mistress, he felt bashful at mentioning its name” (21).
Many people also illustrate the city in various ways to Jude. After a passerby describes the city to Jude, he thinks to himself that “Christminster is a place that teachers of men spring from and go to. It is what you may call a castle manned by scholarship and religion. It would just suit me” (23). This embodies Jude’s sentiment about Christminster. Without even being present in the city, Jude has already devoted his life to it, showing how profound his aspirations of attaining a valid education there are.
Any extra time that is available, Jude devotes towards his studies. Eventually, he moves to Christminster in the hope of gaining acceptance into a university. After writing letters to universities, Jude’s aspirations are destroyed. Writing the letters shows that Jude is committed to gaining an education. However, the universities understand that Jude is from the lower end of the social ladder; therefore, they reject him. Jude’s letter shows that he is probably more committed to gaining an education then some of the people that are already in a university.
The undergraduates in the aforementioned bar sneak out into a lowly place during school, showing that they are not really interested with school. One college does respond to Jude with a letter that states, “Judging from your description of yourself as a working-man, I venture to think you will have a much better chance of success in life by remaining in your own sphere and sticking to your trade than by adopting any other course” (95).
Ironically, the person who writes this letter fails to recognize Jude’s ambition and determination. In fact, they completely ignore the courage that Jude has to write a university. In response, Jude states, “I don’t give a damn for any Provost, Warden, Principal, Fellow, or cursed Master of Arts in the University! What I know is that I’d lick ’em on their own ground if they’d give me a chance, and show ’em a few things” (98). Jude’s statement here shows, once again, in the face of rejection, that he is determined. No one can see that determination and they ironically dismiss Jude. Jude’s love for knowledge and aspirations for an education are ironically never fulfilled while other’s, who care less about education, are able to do so easily.
Irony in the form of education runs rampant in Jude the Obscure. Despite his aspirations to improve his life, Jude is denied from universities and is destined to lead a meager life. The assiduous work that Jude puts into learning Latin goes to waste. Ironically, everything educational he devotes himself to does not end up helping him in Christminster. The policeman’s cautioning does not register with Jude despite its vagueness. Jude’s knowledge, which is perhaps as high as others who are attending universities, does not enable him to educate himself. The aspirations of Jude, which were also very high, ironically get him nowhere. Despite his courage, despite his intelligence, despite his determination, Jude is never able to lead his life in the manner that he wants to.