Joseph Andrews | Study Guide

Henry Fielding

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Joseph Andrews | Symbols


Joseph's Birthmark

Joseph's strawberry birthmark is a symbol of his true origin and identifies him as the son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, stolen from the gypsies and raised by Mrs. Andrews. A strawberry is also a fitting symbol for Joseph, since it is a fruit associated with summer, fresh and sweet and beautiful to look at. Joseph is a beautiful man who is a magnet for female attention, and he is ripe for the picking, like a summer strawberry.

Parson Adams's Crabstick

Parson Adams is a fighter by nature—both in word and in deed. He is never one to back down from a fight. The crabstick (cane made of wood from a crab apple tree) symbolizes his venerability as a teacher, since he is middle-aged, and also his skill in physical fighting and his strength and vitality. The crabstick is his weapon of choice when he has to defend the people who are in his charge.

Character Names

Henry Fielding uses people's names to create broad comedy in the novel as well as indicate character. For example, Joseph Andrews has a name reminiscent of the handsome and kind Joseph of the Old Testament, who is favored by his father, Jacob, and then thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers and sold into slavery. Joseph's identity is hidden in the Bible story, just as Joseph Andrews's true identity is hidden. Both Josephs resist the advances of predatory mistresses. Parson Abraham Adams has a name that recalls the biblical characters of Abraham and Adam. Adam is the father of mankind, as the parson is the father of his parishioners. The parson attempts to mimic Abraham in his obedience to God and is much enamored of the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Other characters have names that represent their flaws: for example, Lady Booby, Mrs. Slipslop, Constable Suckbribe, and the like.

The Aeschylus Text

The text by Greek dramatist Aeschylus (c. 525/524–456/455 BCE) of Parson Adams represents his learning as well as his vanity about his learning. The text also represents his overreliance on book knowledge. When the parson accidentally throws the text in the fire, he signals his willingness to give a back seat to book learning in favor of paying more attention to what is in front of him. However, his resolution is short lived.

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