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Tom Jones
Henry Fielding



Returning to his country estate from a long trip, Squire Allworthy discovers a baby in his bed. He eventually finds the mother, Jenny Jones, the unmarried servant of a schoolteacher named Partridge. Allworthy generously offers to raise the child as his own. Jenny gratefully accepts the offer and leaves town without revealing the father's name. Suspicions turn to Jenny's master, Partridge. Allworthy sadly dismisses him from his post, and Partridge leaves town also. Allworthy gives the baby the name Tom Jones and loves him dearly.

Soon after, Mrs. Bridget (Allworthy's sister who lives with him) marries the greedy Captain Blifil. They have a baby boy who is raised together with Tom Jones. As he grows up, Master Blifil becomes very jealous of Tom. Blifil plays up to his tutors, Thwackum and Square, and plots to bring about Tom's ruin.

Meanwhile, Sophia Western, the lovely daughter of the neighboring squire, falls in love with Tom. Tom likes her but doesn't notice Sophia's adoration. He's become involved with the gamekeeper's daughter, Molly Seagrim. She becomes pregnant and is humiliated by the townspeople. Tom confesses to Squire Allworthy that he's the father, but when he goes to Molly to bring her some money, he finds her in bed with the philosopher Mr. Square. She has had other lovers all along. Tom feels free to think of the other woman he's gradually fallen in love with: Sophia Western.

But Squire Western, Sophia's father, won't allow her to marry a foundling like Tom. He wants her to marry Blifil and so unite the Allworthy and Western estates. Blifil wants to marry her as well, to gain her wealth and to get revenge on Tom Jones. When Western discovers Sophia's love for Tom, he locks her up until she agrees to marry Blifil.

Squire Allworthy becomes very ill. He recovers but receives the news that Mrs. Bridget, who was away on a trip, has died. To celebrate Allworthy's recovery, Tom gets drunk. Later Blifil lies to Allworthy that Jones got drunk because he thought Allworthy was about to die and was celebrating his impending inheritance. Thwackum and Square corroborate the story. Allworthy, who is fed up with Tom's offenses, banishes him from his estate.

Miserably, Tom heads toward the sea. Meanwhile, Sophia escapes her father's imprisonment and sets out to find Tom. Western, an enthusiastic hunter, climbs on his horse and sets off to track his daughter down.

At an inn, Tom is attacked by a surly soldier named Northerton. The man who bandages Tom's wounds turns out to be Partridge- Tom's supposed father. But Partridge informs Tom that Tom isn't his son. The pair become friends and traveling companions. Walking along, Tom finds Northerton attacking a woman named Mrs. Waters. He rescues the attractive lady and takes her to Upton Inn.

Mrs. Waters seduces Tom over dinner. Sophia arrives at the inn and finds that Tom's in bed with another woman. Enraged, she leaves her handwarmer on his bed, with her name, and makes her way toward London. Western, too, arrives and finds Tom but not Sophia. Cursing, he begins the pursuit of Sophia but becomes distracted by a fox hunt and eventually returns home.

On the road, Sophia meets her cousin, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who's fleeing her hot-tempered Irish husband. They go to London together. Meanwhile, Tom discovers Sophia's handwarmer on his bed and falls into despair. He sets off on foot toward London with Partridge.

In London, Sophia stays with Lady Bellaston, a society lady. Lady Bellaston hears about Tom Jones and is so intrigued she contrives to meet him on her own. Tom, hoping the lady can lead him to Sophia, has an affair with her.

One evening, while he's alone in Lady Bellaston's drawing room, Sophia walks in. He asks her forgiveness for what happened at Upton Inn and proclaims his love for her. She forgives him, and they embrace. But she tells him that her father's displeasure prevents her from marrying him.

Later, the enraged Lady Bellaston accuses Tom of carrying on with Sophia behind her back. At the same time, a friend of Lady Bellaston, Lord Fellamar, has fallen in love with Sophia. To remove her rival, Lady Bellaston arranges for Fellamar to abduct and marry Sophia.

Tom tries to figure out a way to break off his affair with Lady Bellaston. Nightingale, a young gentleman who has become Tom's friend, surprisingly suggests that Tom propose marriage to her. He does, and Lady Bellaston, believing Tom's just trying to get her money, angrily refuses him.

Meanwhile, Squire Western, hearing that Sophia's in London, goes there with Mrs. Western. He finds Sophia just as she's about to be raped by Fellamar. He takes her to his lodgings for safe keeping.

Allworthy and Blifil, following the others, arrive in London.

Tom goes to Mrs. Fitzpatrick to figure out how to reach Sophia. As he's leaving, he runs into Mr. Fitzpatrick. Jealously believing that Tom is his wife's lover, Fitzpatrick draws his sword. Tom thereupon wounds Fitzpatrick and is taken to prison. Mrs. Waters, who is now traveling with Mr. Fitzpatrick, visits Tom in prison and tells him that Fitzpatrick's wound was slight. Tom now receives a letter from Sophia, who has discovered his affair with Lady Bellaston, saying she never wants to see him again. And Partridge, recognizing Mrs. Waters as Jenny Jones, tells Tom that he slept with his own mother.

Meanwhile, Tom's landlady, Mrs. Miller, who is a friend of Squire Allworthy, tells Allworthy of Tom's great generosity and kindness toward her. Allworthy doesn't even want to hear Tom's name. But Allworthy is visited by Mrs. Waters (Jenny Jones), who informs him that Tom Jones is the son of Mrs. Bridget (Allworthy's sister), and so is also Allworthy's nephew and Blifil's half-brother. Allworthy then hears that his sister wrote him a letter revealing that she was Tom's mother, but that the letter had been kept from him by Blifil. He receives a letter from the dying Square, saying that Tom dearly loved Allworthy. Convinced of Blifil's villainy, Allworthy banishes him. Allworthy and Tom have a tender reunion.

Western, finding that Tom is the Allworthy heir, becomes enthusiastic about Tom's marrying Sophia. But Sophia, though she loves Tom, is still angry. Tom vows his devotion. Sophia, pretending to obey only her father's wishes, but actually obeying her own heart, accepts him. They marry and return happily to the country, where Western gives them his estate.

[Tom Jones Contents]




    Many readers find the narrator the most interesting character in Tom Jones. (Some readers identify the narrator with Fielding.) In the first chapter, the narrator compares the novel to a feast and the opening chapters of each book to a menu. The narrator himself is like a very affable host who has invited you to dinner. Genial, intelligent, witty, he's wonderfully well educated (especially in the classics) but never stuffy. Whether criticizing critics and other novelists, or calling for your sympathy in helping him with the impossible task of his narrative, he constantly amuses and charms. In Tom Jones, you feel as if you have had a personal chat with the narrator just by reading his novel.


    Tom Jones is the foundling taken in and raised by the wealthy Squire Allworthy. You later learn that he is Mrs. Bridget's son- and thus Allworthy's nephew, Master Blifil's older half-brother, and the heir to the Allworthy estate.

    Tom Jones is both unheroic and heroic. "Even at his first appearance, it was the universal opinion of all Mr. Allworthy's family, that he was born to be hanged," says the narrator. When you meet him again at age fourteen, "he has been already convicted of three robberies, viz. of robbing an orchard, of stealing a duck out of farmer's yard, and of picking Master Blifil's pocket of a ball.... Tom Jones was universally disliked."

    But Tom's thefts, and Tom himself, have another side as well. Tom robbed the orchard and stole the duck to help the impoverished gamekeeper, Black George. Tom is often astoundingly generous, underlining Fielding's belief in charity as one of the central Christian virtues. At the novel's end, even Allworthy, an ideal of charity, is amazed by Tom's generosity toward the criminal Black George.

    Further, unlike Master Blifil, Tom seeks no publicity for his virtues. He gives Mrs. Miller money for her relatives privately, and he's embarrassed by her praise. Nor, unlike so many of the other characters, does Tom have any desire for revenge. He doesn't seek vengeance on Blifil or Black George, even though they've betrayed him.

    In these ways, Tom resembles his surrogate father, Squire Allworthy. But Tom is also impulsive like Squire Western, his other surrogate father. He has the Squire's hot temper: when called "a beggarly bastard" by Blifil, he bloodies Blifil's nose. He has unbridled animal drives, seldom putting much restraint on his sexual urges. Even as he's feeling pure, elevated love for Sophia Western, he indulges in an affair with Lady Bellaston.

    Tom Jones is a bildungsroman, a novel about growing up; the novel traces Tom's acquisition of knowledge of the world. Tom slowly comes to temper his impulsiveness with wisdom. When, because of his love for Sophia, he turns down the romantic proposals of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, he demonstrates his maturity. Having acquired wisdom, he almost magically regains Allworthy's love and marries Sophia.

    Readers vary greatly in their estimation of Tom. Some see him as a virile, high-spirited young man whose character flaws are minor because they never conceal his noble heart. Others are repulsed by such a flawed hero and find unpalatable a novel that evidently celebrates him.

    Readers also vary in their estimation of Tom as a literary character. Some feel he's realistically portrayed- a character with the mix of strengths and flaws all people possess. Others think that compared to heroes of other great novels, Tom lacks depth. To them, Tom seems portrayed in a kind of shorthand. Fielding doesn't often explore Tom's emotions here, he just describes them in general terms, as if he didn't take them seriously or wasn't especially interested in them. According to one critic, Tom and the other characters have no emotional complexity, and their psychological development seems extremely limited. See if you feel this limitation as you read.

    Other readers don't find this lack of complexity a defect, because they see Tom as an allegorical figure- more an abstract symbol than a realistic character. According to one writer, "Tom Jones is that universal hero of folk tale and myth- the foundling prince, the king's son raised by wolves, Moses in the bullrushes...." Another writes:

    The story of Tom Jones's disgrace and redemption, of his arduous journey toward reconciliation with his foster father and marriage with the woman he loves, takes on a broadly allegorical dimension; it is the story of our deep need to live our lives with Wisdom.

    As you can see, Tom Jones has been interpreted in many ways. It is up to you to determine who the real Tom is. Your evaluation of the book will rest to a considerable degree on your interpretation of the title character.


    A wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy finds Tom Jones and raises him as his own son. Generous and kind, Squire Allworthy often represents an idealized image of fatherhood. A kindly man, he can also seem stern and even rather arbitrary. ("Though Mr. Allworthy had the utmost sweetness and benevolence in his smiles, he had great terror in his frowns.") As his name implies, he serves as a God-like image, resembling for some readers the God of the Old Testament.

    He contrasts with the rash Squire Western in his moderation, urbanity, and wisdom. He also contrasts with the sophisticated but cynical Mrs. Western and Lady Bellaston in his warmth and kindness. Yet for a God-like figure, he seems to some readers very unaware or blind. For example, he doesn't understand Blifil's motives for marrying Sophia- he even believes Blifil has a passionate, erotic desire for her. Some critics feel this blindness is merely a device to serve the plot, while others feel he thus becomes a more complex character.


    Mrs. Bridget's son and Squire Allworthy's nephew, Master Blifil is raised with Tom Jones in the Allworthy household and is the villain of the novel. Prissy and pompous, he seems to act mainly out of selfishness, greed, and jealousy. He plays up to his pious mentors, Thwackum and Square, then enlists them in his plots. He wants to marry Sophia not out of love but out of a desire for the Western estate. He hides the letter from his mother to Squire Allworthy that reveals Tom is really her son and thus Allworthy's nephew and heir. He also lies that Tom was overjoyed when Allworthy seemed about to die- a lie that causes Allworthy to banish Tom for a time.

    Blifil is indeed villainous. But Blifil's nasty cleverness makes him his own worst enemy. At the novel's conclusion, his treachery is discovered and he- not Tom Jones- is the one banished from the Allworthy estate.


    Squire Western is Sophia's father and one of the most delightful characters in Tom Jones. A bundle of unbridled instincts who spends much of his time hunting, Western sometimes functions as another father figure for Tom, who shares his vitality and lack of restraint.

    The squire is crude and boorish, with a violent temper and almost as violent an affection for his friends, relations, and animals. He loves his daughter so much that he comes to prefer her to his hunting dogs- high praise from him. He likes Tom as well. Despite his affections, greed prevents him from letting the couple marry. Instead, he insists Sophia marry Blifil for money. Not until Tom is declared Squire Allworthy's true heir does he agree to Sophia's marrying his young friend.


    Sophia is Squire Western's daughter, Tom Jones' true love, and the heroine of Tom Jones. She is lovely, kind, and bright, without the biting wit or cynicism of so many others in the novel. The noted twentieth-century novelist Somerset Maugham said Sophia is " delightful a young woman as has ever enchanted a reader of fiction. She is simple, but not silly; virtuous, but no prude; she has character, determination and courage; she has a loving heart." The character of Sophia was based on Fielding's first wife, Charlotte Cradock, whom he loved dearly. Sophia's name means wisdom, and in the novel she functions as an emblem of wisdom. Perhaps because of this, some readers find her too idealized.



    Squire Allworthy's sister and the mother of Master Blifil, she's pompous and sanctimonious, and she despises both her husband, Captain Blifil, and their son. She does, however, bear a surprising affection for the young Tom Jones. That affection is explained at the end of the book when, years after her death, she is revealed as Tom's mother, having conceived him during an affair with a young visitor to the Allworthy estate, Mr. Summer.


    The Captain is Master Blifil's father and Bridget Allworthy's husband. He's introduced into the Allworthy household by his greedy brother, Dr. Blifil, who hopes the Captain can win Bridget's hand and thus be in line to inherit Allworthy's estate. Captain Blifil does marry Bridget, but he has no intention of sharing his luck with his brother. He causes Dr. Blifil to die of sorrow at losing a fortune. Ironically, Captain Blifil himself dies before he can inherit anything.


    Thwackum is a pompous tutor who is fond of Blifil but despises Jones, being one of the many who believe Tom was "born to be hanged." As his name implies, he is fond of dispensing punishment. He has many tedious philosophical discussions with his rival, Mr. Square, and is also an unsuccessful suitor to Mrs. Bridget.


    A resident guest at the Allworthy estate, Square is Mr. Thwackum's companion and rival. He, too, dislikes Jones and fawns over Blifil, and he helps Blifil to have Jones banished. He turns out to be a lover of Molly Seagrim, and an unsuccessful suitor of Mrs. Bridget Blifil. Near the end of the novel, on his deathbed, he writes a letter to Allworthy, which helps Tom Jones regain the Squire's love.


    Mrs. Western is Sophia's aunt and Squire Western's sister- a sophisticated lady (though not as sophisticated as she likes to think) who despises her brother's country boorishness. On the subject of Sophia's marriage, however, she and Squire Western agree. Having taken the responsibility for Sophia's education, she expects her niece to marry a wealthy aristocrat. She too pushes Sophia to marry Blifil.


    The supposed mother of Tom Jones, Jenny Jones was hired by Mrs. Bridget Blifil to assume motherhood and bring the foundling to Squire Allworthy's bed. She's then sent away by Allworthy for her supposed infidelity with Partridge. Years later, she turns up as Mrs. Waters, the bawdy wife of an army captain. Rescued from the brutal Ensign Northerton by Tom Jones, she shows her gratitude by seducing her rescuer. (As a result, Tom will briefly fear he's slept with his own mother.) At the end of the book, she reveals Tom's true parentage to Allworthy.


    He's the impoverished gamekeeper of Squire Allworthy and, later, of Squire Western. Tom Jones takes the blame for his crimes, and helps him financially. Black George ungratefully repays him by stealing the bank note Allworthy gave Tom on banishing him. Black George offers to help Tom at the end of the book, though, proving he has some loyalty.


    Molly is Black George's wild daughter. She's also Tom Jones' first lover. Tom believes, wrongly, that he is the father of her child, then discovers that she has other lovers, including Mr. Square.


    Partridge is the schoolteacher wrongly thought to be Jenny Jones' lover and Tom Jones' father. When his jealous wife dies, he takes to the road. Years later, he runs into the banished Tom and accompanies him, partly out of friendship and partly out of hopes of regaining Allworthy's favor by reconciling the Squire with Tom. Partridge is a nervous, amusing fellow, a scholarly stand-up comic who gives his punch lines in Latin. Faithful if sometimes bothersome, he's been compared to another famous traveling companion of literature, Sancho Panza of the great early-seventeenth-century Spanish novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.


    She flees with her cousin Sophia to London. She claims to be fleeing her cruel Irish husband, Mr. Fitzpatrick, but she's also running away for a romantic engagement with an Irish nobleman. Her selfishness (she betrays Sophia to gain favor with Western) contrasts with Sophia's nobility.


    Mrs. Fitzpatrick's husband, he has a violent temper and is chasing his wife. He wrongly suspects Tom of having an affair with his wife and challenges him to a duel, which results in Tom's being thrown in prison.


    A wealthy, sophisticated, and utterly selfish friend of Mrs. Western, she gives Sophia a place to stay in London. After hearing Sophia talk about Tom Jones, she develops an infatuation for him, and, using Sophia as a lure, she begins an affair with him. Generous at times- she provides Tom with money and clothes- she's vicious when angry. When Tom breaks off their affair, she does her best to ruin his chances with Sophia.


    The warm, simple woman who runs the London lodging house where Tom stays, she's a friend of Squire Allworthy and a recipient of his generosity. By singing Tom's praises to Allworthy, she helps him regain Allworthy's favor.


    A boarder at Mrs. Miller's and a friend of Tom when he gets to London, he is the lover and eventual husband of Mrs. Miller's daughter Nancy. As his name suggests, he is something of a frivolous social creature, but he proves to be a good and loyal friend to Tom.

[Tom Jones Contents]



Tom Jones has three basic settings, which provide the background to the three major sections of the novel: The Country (Somersetshire), The Road, and London. They allow Fielding an opportunity to present a panorama of England, and provide a neat scheme for organizing the novel as a whole.

    The Country section of Tom Jones is set in Somersetshire, in Western England, south of the Bristol Channel. This is where Fielding himself grew up, and he conveys his obvious affection for the area, portraying it as a rural paradise. The very name of the mansion on the vast Allworthy estate is Paradise Hall. The other primary setting is the neighboring Western estate, which is similarly wealthy, and serves Squire Western mostly as a kind of hunting lodge.

    The middle section of Tom Jones takes place along the roads and within the roadside inns between Somersetshire and Upton (at the very upper tip of the Bristol Channel) and between Upton and London. The roads are often dangerous, full of hostile soldiers and occasional bandits. The inns are, in a sense, homes away from home that provide hospitality, warmth, and rest- but for a price. They're loud, boisterous, sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile places, which vary a great deal according to the whim of the innkeeper and the condition of the traveler's pocketbook. The most important of them is Upton Inn, which serves much like the setting of a French farce, with one person coming in the front door as another is leaving by the back door.

    The London of Tom Jones is, for the most part, high-society London. You see little of the poverty, filth, and squalor which Charles Dickens would later portray in his novels. You see exquisite drawing rooms, theaters, and costume balls. Heightening the theatrical theme of the novel, this is the kind of setting found in a drawing room stage comedy.


The style of Tom Jones is one of its greatest pleasures. Witty and ironic, Fielding is the master of the epigram- the brief, clever, pointed remark. Marriages, he says, provide two kinds of pleasures, that of pleasing someone you love, and that of tormenting someone you hate. He employs a vast range of classical allusions. For example, he compares the porters of high-society houses to Cerberus, the dog that guards the gates of hell in Greek mythology. Some of this cleverness is intended to show up the often tedious style of his rival novelist, Samuel Richardson. Some is just his way of showing off- but with such flair that you indulge him.

Fielding's style has some of its roots in earlier literature. He calls Tom Jones "a comic epic poem in prose." (Epics are long poems such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, and John Milton's Paradise Lost.) To achieve that comic epic effect he often employs the mock-heroic style, which uses the grandiose similes found in epics not to make characters seem heroic but to make fun of them. A typical example is found in Book II, Chapter 4:

As fair Grimalkin, who, though the youngest of the feline family, degenerates not in ferocity, from the elder branches of her house, and... is equal in fierceness to the noble tyger himself... With not less fury did Mrs. Partridge fly on the poor pedagogue.

Fielding uses his experience as a playwright for scenes of drawing-room comedy or farce. The scenes in Book 13, Chapters 11 and 12, between Sophia, Tom, and Lady Bellaston provide a brilliant example of this theatrical kind of writing. Occasionally, he employs interpolated narrative, which is a story told not by the novel's narrator but by one of the characters (for example, the stories of The Man of the Hill and of Mrs. Fitzpatrick), integrated into the novel. These interpolations are one of Fielding's many innovations in the development of the novel.

Finally, Fielding gives you the casual, witty style of the narrator himself in the essays that begin each book of Tom Jones and elsewhere throughout the novel. The narrator's wit is often sharply ironic. He will praise a character, only to have that praise turn to mockery in the face of the character's greed or selfishness. The narrator's humorous observations on the art of swearing, in Book 6, Chapter 9, provide a particularly amusing example of his wit.


Tom Jones is one of the most elaborately plotted, highly structured novels ever written. It consists of eighteen books, each introduced by an opening essay.

The eighteen-book arrangement imitates the standard form of an epic. Its plot in part parallels the plots of epics like Homer's Odyssey: a hero leaves his home; he goes on a journey; and after many adventures, he returns home. Tom Jones parallels as well the classic structure of a romance: the hero and heroine meet and fall in love; they are separated; they meet again, reconcile, and marry. Thus the journey structure reflects Tom's banishment and reconciliation with Allworthy, while the romance provides the story of Tom's winning Sophia.

Tom Jones is divided into three roughly equal sections of six books each, which reflect Tom's journey: those taking place at home in the Country (Books I-VI), those on the Road (Books VII-XII), and those in London (Books XIII-XVIII). The London books conclude with Tom (and Sophia and many of the other characters) coming home to the country. These three sections also roughly correspond to the three movements of the romance. In the first six books, Tom and Sophia fall in love; in the second six they are separated and Sophia falls out of love with Tom; and in the third six they meet again and Sophia is slowly reconciled to Tom. The culmination of both the journey and the romance is the couple's marriage and return to the country.

The Upton Inn Books (IX-X) occur in the exact middle of the novel, and mark a major change between Tom and Sophia. Before Upton Inn, Sophia chases Tom, both on the road and metaphorically. The pursuit reverses at Upton Inn, and from there Tom chases Sophia.

A number of critics have noted that Tom Jones is constructed in the neoclassical style popular in the art and architecture of Fielding's day. In neoclassicism, balance and symmetry are of prime importance. In Tom Jones, Fielding made sure that almost every character and plot element is balanced in some way by another.

For example, you'll notice how the various relations of Tom at the Allworthy estate are balanced by those of Sophia at the Western estate. Both Western and Allworthy are squires, own valuable estates, are widowed, and have sisters. Western is Sophia's father, and Mrs. Western is her aunt and surrogate mother. Balancing this, Mrs. Bridget Blifil is Tom's mother, and Squire Allworthy is his uncle and surrogate father. Tom is similar to Squire Western, and Sophia is similar to Squire Allworthy. Both Tom and Sophia dislike Blifil- and desire each other.

Much of the plotting reflects these kinds of balances. For example, in the London section of Tom Jones, Lady Bellaston hides behind a bed curtain while Mrs. Honour visits Tom. Later, Mrs. Honour hides behind the bed curtain while Lady Bellaston visits Tom.

Some readers greatly admire the careful symmetry of Tom Jones. Others find it highly contrived, and therefore annoying and distracting. As you read, note the symmetries and balances and your reactions to them.

          Country                Road                 London                
     Books               Books                   Books                      
     I ------------ VI   VII ------------- XII   XIII ---------- XVIII      
     - Tom finds a home  - Tom sets off on       - Tom finds a "home"       
  J    with Allworthy.     journey, on the road    with Mrs. Miller.        
  O  - Tom grows up.       and homeless. He      - Mrs. Miller              
  U  - Tom is banished     does not meet           reconciles him with      
  R    from home by        Allworthy in this       Allworthy.               
  N    Allworthy.          section of the        - Tom goes home to         
  E                        novel.                  Allworthy and the        
  Y                                                country and              
                                                   establishes his own      
                                                   home with Sophia.        
     - Sophia falls in   - Sophia pursues Tom    - Tom pursues Sophia       
       love with Tom.      to Upton Inn. She       through Lady             
     - Tom falls in love   finds Tom in bed with   Bellaston.               
       with Sophia.        Mrs. Waters and       - Tom meets Sophia at      
  R  - Tom and Sophia      flees.                  Lady Bellaston's.        
  O    are separated     - Tom pursues Sophia    - Sophia flees Tom         
  M    by parents.         to London. But Tom      again because of         
  A                        and Sophia do not       his infidelity with      
  N                        meet in this section    Lady Bellaston.          
  C                        of the novel.         - Tom and Sophia are       
  E                                                reconciled by            
                                                   "parents": Western,      
                                                   Mrs. Miller, and         
                                                 - Tom and Sophia           


Point of view is one of the most fascinating aspects of Tom Jones. It's intricately related to another intriguing aspect of the novel, Fielding's brilliant narrative technique.

Basically, Fielding employs a third-person, omniscient (all-knowing) point of view. He shifts the focus from one character (usually Tom) to another, and sometimes adopts a more general vantage point. To heighten suspense, Fielding often limits the focus of his narrative. For example, in the Upton Inn section of the novel, the narrator relates that a lady and her maid arrive at the inn. You must determine that they are Mrs. Fitzpatrick and her maid. A more important example is the question of Tom's parentage, which Fielding keeps hidden from Tom- and from you- as long as possible.

In fact, Fielding is so clever at hiding and disguising important information that sometimes you can't fully appreciate his cleverness until you've read Tom Jones a second time. The encounter between Blifil and Tom in Book V, Chapter 9, provides one example of a scene that yields an entirely different interpretation the second time you read it. We will explore this further in The Story section.


The following are themes of Tom Jones.


    Fielding effectively uses a metaphor taken from the sport of hunting. He creates the image of people driven by passions and instincts to pursue others, the way hunters pursue a fox. In the first half of the novel, Sophia pursues Tom Jones, metaphorically and literally, and in the second half Tom pursues Sophia. Squire Western spends most of his time hunting fox, but when he finds Sophia gone, he sets out to hunt her down as well.

    Fielding elaborates this theme into a complex pattern of pursuits and flights. The hunted can also be a hunter, and the roles can suddenly reverse- as with Sophia and Tom. The hunter can reach his prey and find her trapped by another hunter, as when Squire Western finds Sophia as she's being abducted by Lord Fellamar.

    Fielding elaborates this theme more subtly. When Sophia goes hunting with Squire Western, Fielding shows you her affection for her father. She then falls from her horse into the arms of Tom Jones. In this way you're given a metaphor for the way Sophia's passion pulls her from her father and causes her to fall for Tom. The sport of hunting becomes a metaphor for the relationships in the novel as a whole.


    The world's a stage, the narrator writes, borrowing a theme used by William Shakespeare and other authors. Fielding spent many years writing for the theater, and in Tom Jones he presents the spectacle of people playing false roles and wearing masks as though they were actors. For example, Tom meets Lady Bellaston at a masquerade, where she greets masked friends as though they were in her drawing room having tea. Reversing this, when she finds Tom and Sophia in her drawing room, she and Tom must act like strangers to each other.

    Just as the theme of the hunt is a rural one that predominates in the first half of the book, the theme of the theater is an urban one that predominates in the second half. The themes overlap in the Upton Inn chapters of the novel (Books 9 and 10) where the theatrical aspect of the story takes on the cruder, more frenzied quality of a farce.


    With this theme, Fielding explores both English class prejudice and the question of children's duty to their parents vs. the need to follow their own desires. Sophia wants to marry Tom. But because Tom has no money or lineage, Squire Western thwarts her desires and imprisons her. Even though Western loves Sophia dearly, his greed makes him demand she marry Blifil for his money. Sophia in turn is torn between her love for her father and her desire for her own happiness. Fielding presents many other instances of this conflict as well- for example, the Quaker who is angry because his daughter married for love rather than money.

    Fielding attacks the cold view of Squire Western and Mrs. Western that sees marriage as an alliance between estates rather than an expression of love between husband and wife. Yet Tom turns out to have aristocratic lineage, and so marries in his own class. Do you think Fielding has aristocratic prejudices, after all?


    The name Sophia comes from a Greek word meaning wisdom, and it's wisdom that Tom Jones must attain before he can marry Sophia and achieve happiness. Wisdom was seen in Plato's philosophy as the highest ideal a man could achieve; this ideal is often referred to by Allworthy as prudence and, occasionally, discretion. A major theme of the novel is Tom's struggle to achieve these qualities. When, near the end of the novel, he spurns the erotic offers of Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Mrs. Waters, he shows that he's gained the wisdom he needs in order to gain the symbol of wisdom itself, Sophia.


    There are many parallels between Tom Jones and the Bible. In many ways, Tom resembles the Prodigal Son whose story is told in Luke: an impetuous, wild young man who is eventually reunited with his father. Even more important are the parallels with the story of Adam. Tom and Sophia are banished from their country paradise just as Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise. Fielding emphasizes this parallel by calling Allworthy's mansion Paradise Hall and by quoting John Milton's epic Paradise Lost to compare Tom to Adam: "The world, as Milton phrases it, lay all before him, and Jones, no more than Adam, had any man to whom he might resort for comfort or assistance." In this way, the country is associated with Eden, in contrast to the harshness of the road and the city. Tom and Sophia's return there is portrayed as a return to paradise and provides a metaphor for the happiness that love brings.

    In addition, Fielding draws parallels between Allworthy and God, emphasizing his compassion. Tom plays the Good Samaritan to a highway robber, underscoring Christ's message of charity. Perhaps most importantly, Fielding compares the narrator with God, and calls the novel his world, turning the book into a metaphor for the universe itself.


    Fielding portrays many of the characters as driven by the motives of greed, jealousy and revenge. Tom Jones' chief villain, Blifil, is jealous of Tom, greedily desires Sophia for her estate, then wants revenge on her for her rejection of him. Fielding provides many other instances of these motives in the novel. Mr. Fitzpatrick is jealous of his wife, even though he doesn't particularly love her and only married her out of greed. Mrs. Deborah Wilkins, Mrs. Bridget's maid, takes revenge on those beneath her for the abuse she suffers from those above her. The lower classes are jealous of the upper classes, and greedy for their money, while the upper classes are jealous of each other. To some readers, most of the characters in Tom Jones seem relentlessly selfish and mean. Others think most are neither completely evil nor totally good. Which view do you support?


    The eighteenth century is often called the Age of Reason, reflecting a belief in an inherent order in the universe and in the ability of man's reason to discover that order. Fielding compares the narrator to God and the novel to God's world. He gives that world many kinds of balance and symmetry, conveying the image in an ordered universe. Yet Fielding also presents many instances of far-fetched coincidences, seeming to convey an image of the universe as arbitrary.



ECC [Tom Jones Contents] []

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