“Jude = x”:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
When Brother Luke convinces Jude to run away with him, promising him a happy life, Jude is desperate to leave the monastery where every day had been filled with nightmares. When I think about this moment, I think about how horrible it is that people like Brother Luke exist, and how unfortunate it is that they do unimaginable things to people like Jude, who deserve a better life than the one he has been given. Brother Luke gives Jude so much hope, then snatches it away when Jude needs it the most.
When Jude finds Malcolm, Willem, and JB in college, he never reveals anything about himself, both because he doesn’t want to, and because he thinks telling them about who he really is will make them hate him and be disgusted with him. Jude believes this because this is how he feels about himself. The world has treated him horribly from the beginning, and Jude doesn’t want others to find out how insignificant he is. And yet, even as Jude refuses to talk about himself, he becomes friends with people like Willem, Harold, and Andy, who provide an anchor for him to hold on to, as he struggles to barely hold on each day. Jude doesn’t understand why they hang around him, and yet, without them, Jude wouldn’t have a reason to struggle through another day.
At a certain point, Jude wonders about the discrepancy between how he views himself vs how his friends view him:
“[Jude] feels…that his life is something that has happened to him, rather than something he has had any role in creating. He has never been able to imagine what his life might be; even as a child, even as he dreamed of other places, of other lives, he wasn’t able to visualize what those other places and lives would be; he had believed everything he had been taught about who he was and what he would become. But his friends, Ana, Lucien, Harold and Julia: They had imagined his life for him. They had seen him as something different than he had ever seen himself as; they had allowed him to believe in possibilities that he would never have conceived. He saw his life as the axiom of equality, but they saw it as another riddle, one with no name—Jude = x—and they had filled in the x in ways Brother Luke, the counselors at the home, Dr. Traylor had never written for him or encouraged him to write for himself. He wishes he could believe their proofs the way they do; he wishes they had shown him how they had arrived at their solutions.”
The world has made sure Jude believed in his own insignificance. Yet, Jude makes many loyal and loving friends, who are extremely intelligent and successful in their careers. They choose to befriend him, and to take their time and energy to get to know him. In the end, Jude even becomes adopted by Harold and Julia. What is it about Jude that, despite all of his secrets and his reluctance to talk about himself, draws people in?
For me, I think the reason why Jude’s friends value and love him is because Jude provides them with all the love and forgiveness that he does not give himself. Whereas he hates himself and will not budge when people tell him to think otherwise, Jude acts differently when it comes to his friends. Even though there are a few times in the book where Jude’s beauty is mentioned, I think what his friends really value in Jude is his genuine interest, love, and forgiveness for them. Jude accepts them for who they are, and maybe this encourages them to reciprocate the same feelings to him, even if Jude does not believe them. Somehow Jude is able to bottle up all of his hatred for himself, while showering his love and affections to his friends.
There were many horrifying and uncomfortable moments in this book, and after I finished it, I thought about the title, A Little Life. Assuming that this is alluding to Jude and his life, I thought it should be mentioned that, despite everything Jude went through, he still made something out of his life, and that’s admirable of him.
Yanagihara, Hanya. A little life: a novel. Random House Inc, 2015.