UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Patterns of conflict in Hardy's major fiction Fraser, Ross Phillip


The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure, the four novels often referred to as Hardy's 'major' fiction, display an extraordinarily unified vision of life. This thesis is an attempt to analyze the thematic material common to these four novels through an examination of the poetic techniques—imagery and symbolism— which Hardy uses to enhance and amplify his explicit comments. Patterns of contrast and conflict are basic to the structure of each of these four novels. The conflict which comprises the major theme of the works is developed on both external and internal levels. Externally, the conflict occurs between two worlds which Hardy establishes in the Wessex novels: the stable, traditional world of the peasant, and the uneasy, ever-changing world of modern, urban society. There are two groups of flat, non-developing characters in the novels, one for each of the two separate worlds which Hardy creates. They typify the values of the two worlds, functioning as choric groups speaking from opposed points of view. Most characters in the novels can be linked to one or the other of these two types by criteria such as their attitude toward religion, education, or the mechanization of life, and, more especially, their reactions to alcohol and musical rhythm, both of which act in these novels as touchstones to release the subconscious. Internally, the conflict occurs in major characters who, because of their mixed backgrounds, feel allegiance to the values of both these worlds. The leading character in each of these four novels is cleft by a deep inner schism: he has a conscious ambition or quest, usually of an idealistic nature; at the same time he feels the dark pull of the subconscious. Instinctual needs rise from the subconscious to betray his conscious purposes. The conflict is the universal one between spirit and flesh. Hardy's vision is both consistent and developing. In the four novels discussed, the same conflict between man's conscious striving after the ideal and his deep, subconscious needs prevails. But Hardy's understanding of the nature of this split in the human psyche grows, and his mode of rendering it evolves from a poetic, seemingly unconscious presentation toward increasingly explicit statement of the problem. As his perception develops, the key characters acquire more and more self-knowledge, progressing from the naivety which characterizes Clym Yeobright even at the end of The Return of the Native to the mature and penetrating appreciation of the human dilemma which Jude finally achieves. Jude the Obscure represents a natural culmination of Hardy's novel-writing career, for it contains a full and explicit statement of the problem which Hardy has been exploring in these novels. He could scarcely have said more without becoming didactic. Of all the characters in these four novels Jude Fawley is the most significant thematically, for he achieves the greatest breadth of vision, the fullest understanding of the inner conflict in man which is the central theme of Hardy's fiction.

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