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Guilt, Duty, and Unrequited Love: Deconstructing the Love Triangles in James Joyce's The Dead and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure Its no problem of mine but its a problem I fight, living a life that I cant leave behind. But theres no sense in telling me, the wisdom of the cruel words that you speak. But thats the way that it goes and nobody knows, while everyday my confusion grows. -- New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle, from Substance, 1987 Most people who have watched a soap opera can recognize that the love triangle is a crucial element to the plot. In fact, the original radio broadcasted soap operas seemed to consist almost entirely of love triangles. The love triangle, for plot purposes, seems to be a popular technique employed to change the dynamic, add dimension, and generally spice up an otherwise stagnant monogamous relationship. It would make for a pretty dull and quite unpopular show if such popular daytime soap characters as Luke and Laura or Bo and Hope had enjoyed a smooth courtship, uncomplicated marriage and then grew old and gray together without a single conflict.
The viewers watched them go through many conflicts, some of which involved the classic love triangle. Such conflicts as the love triangle keep the story moving. Common elements of triangles in todays soaps consist of lust, greed, jealousy, any of which are interchangeable with the conflicts resulting from situations involving lovers coming back from the dead or paternity uncertainties. Yet love triangles, whether in the soap opera or in the novel, are not all uniformly constructed.
James Joyce's The Dead and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, both modernist novels, each contain love triangles as an integral element of the story. The key triangles I will focus on are comprised of Michael, Greta and Gabriel, and, Philotson, Sue, and Jude. Although not absolutely identical, deconstruction reveals guilt, duty, and unrequited love as essential components to the construction of both. Besides the most obvious similarity that both triangles are composed of one woman and two men, guilt also figures prominently. Although the men of the triangles may have their own guilt-related issues, it seems as though it is the guilt felt by the women that presents the most conflict. In The Dead, Greta has to live with the knowledge that it is because of her, although indirectly, that Michael died.
It is likely that because of this guilt that she pauses on the staircase to listen to The Lass of Aughrim, a song that, as she tells Gabriel later, reminds her of Michael. At the time, her husband interprets her expression on the staircase as one of grace and mystery as if she were a symbol of something. (Joyce 2028). He was correct, except not in the way that he thought. All the way to the hotel, the lingering memory of that sight of her incites his passion.
However, he experiences a terrible upset as Greta tells him about the song and what it means to her. This is the critical moment where Michael, or rather his memory, enters and completes the triangle, although he may have been there all along without Gabriel's knowledge. To Gabriel, this turn of events casts a different light on his entire marriage to Greta as he thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lovers eyes when he told her that he did not wish to live (Joyce 2035). He wonders how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life (Joyce 2035). Although it is a bit peculiar for one of the members of this bizarre love triangle to reside beyond the grave, we see here that Michael plays a significant role, perhaps altering Gabriel and Greta's relationship forever, with Greta's guilt as the instigating factor. As for Sue, in Jude, her guilt operates on a completely different level, a religious one.
Like Greta, Sue also had a sick man die after braving the elements just to see her. Yet, unlike The Dead, this event has no great impact on the love triangle between Jude, Sue and Philotson. This three-cornered romantic disaster, because of Sues return to Philotson, had already reached its climax. If anything, Jude's death made Sues promise never to see him again easier.
But because Jude's death happens at the end of novel, the reader does not find out if this adds to or detracts from her guilt. All we are told is that she is tired and miserable, years and years older, quite a staid worn woman, and still absolutely repulsed by Philotson (Hardy 431). Sues guilt originates from societal pressures, and then surfaces after the death of the children. She knows that shacking up with Jude after her divorce from Philotson is frowned upon, yet she does not share the same morals and values as the society in which she lived, thus, does not expect any sort of punishment. She takes the horrifying death of her children as a sign of divine admonishment. I see marriage differently now!
My babies have been taken from me to show me this! (Hardy 369). Therefore, so that their deaths would not have been in vain, Sue becomes religious and returns to Philotson, adding more complexity to the triangle. Sues last words to Jude before he dies are: Dont follow meant look at me. Leave me, for pity's sake! (Hardy 412). This bizarre love triangle may not be broken even after Jude's death, for it is he whom she really loves.
For Philotson, Sue only feels a sense of duty. Richard Philotson is not a bad guy, not at all the villain of the story. He is just as much a victim as Sue and Jude. Actually, the role of the villain seems to co-star Sues sense of guilt and the judgmental society that causes her to perform such maddening acts of senseless duty that construct the love triangle between them. One chief act of duty is when she becomes engaged to Philotson, despite her feelings for Jude. Another major one occurs when she actually marries Philotson, although it is completely against her principles.
Philotson, as a mentor, had ingratiated himself to Sue and she had to appease him somehow when the scandalous rumors about her and Jude emerged. Sue writes to Jude about the impending marriage, It is so good of him, because the awkwardness of my situation has really come about my fault in getting expelled (Hardy 176). Yet, Jude fears that the real reason behind her marriage to Philotson stemmed from his confession regarding his marital status. Reg...
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