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Tom Jones | Study Guide

Henry Fielding

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Tom Jones | Book 3, Chapters 1–5 : Containing the most Memorable Transactions which passed in the Family of Mr. Allworthy, from the Time when Tommy Jones arrived at the Age of Fourteen, till He attained the Age of Nineteen. | Summary

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Summary

Book 3, Chapter 1

Fielding gave Book 3 this title: "Containing the most memorable Transactions which passed in the Family of Mr. Allworthy, from the Time when Tommy Jones arrived at the Age of Fourteen, till he attained the Age of Nineteen. In this Book the Reader may pick up some Hints concerning the Education of Children."

The narrator urges readers to use their remarkable "sagacity" to fill up the "vacant spaces of time" in the story—in which nothing of interest happens—with their own "conjectures." The narrative will now move ahead 12 years, to the time when the hero of the story is about 14.

Book 3, Chapter 2

Tom Jones is not held in high esteem by his family and seems "born to be hanged." He has already committed three robberies (of some fruit, a duck, and a ball), while Master Blifil, his foster brother, appears to be a Tartuffe: "sober, discreet, and pious, beyond his age." Tom's only friend is the gamekeeper, Black George, and he stole the apples and a duck at George's urging—food that went to George's family.

The squire on the estate next to Mr. Allworthy's is very strict about anyone poaching game on his land, but one day Tom chases a bird with the gamekeeper and ends up shooting a partridge on the squire's land. Tom confesses his crime but will not say the name of his accomplice. One of Tom's tutors, Reverend Mr. Thwackum, tries to get a confession by whipping Tom mercilessly. Mr. Allworthy forbids further punishment since he understands Tom is standing on his honor in concealing the other trespasser.

Book 3, Chapter 3

A discussion, which parallels and possibly parodies the discussions on human nature by English Enlightenment thinker John Locke (1632–1704) and Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–76), now occurs between the tutors who are responsible for educating Tom and Blifil. The second teacher in the house is Mr. Square, a philosopher, who claims to have mastered all the works of Plato and Aristotle. Square "held human nature to be the perfection of all virtue" and vice as "a deviation from our nature," while Thwackum contends the "human mind ... was ... a sink of iniquity, till purified and redeemed by grace." Neither man seems much concerned with goodness in their debates about morality, the narrator says. The philosopher judges according to the "unalterable rule of right, and the eternal fitness of things," while the parson judges according to Scriptural authority. The two teachers now argue whether honor can exist apart from religion.

Book 3, Chapter 4

This discussion is interrupted by young Blifil, who has gotten into a fist fight with Tom and received a bloody nose after he calls him a "beggarly bastard." Blifil wants satisfaction and denies he used this bad language. Further he tells the men Tom has confessed to him that Black George was his accomplice. Tom admits to the truth of the second statement and begs Mr. Allworthy to have mercy on George's family, especially because he urged him to follow the bird.

Book 3, Chapter 5

Both tutors condemn Tom for lying and praise Blifil for bringing "truth to light." For his part Mr. Allworthy admires Tom's "invincible fidelity" to his friend. Nonetheless, he dismisses George, mostly because he allowed Tom to be severely punished without speaking up.

Thwackum continues to find other reasons to beat Tom. He prefers Blifil, who is respectful and receptive to his teachings; he hates Tom, who forgets to bow or take off his hat when he sees the master and is "a thoughtless, giddy youth with little sobriety in his manners." Tom Jones pays little attention to either of his masters. Square doesn't like him either, and Tom has even made fun of his "rule of right." Blifil is able to flatter both masters and stay in their good graces.

Analysis

Tom Jones is introduced in these chapters as a young teenager, already marked as bad because of petty thievery done on behalf of his only friend. While Mr. Allworthy is a paragon of virtue and represents an ideal Christian, he is not the moral compass of the story—rather that role is given to Tom Jones. The hero of the story is a sinner, but his basic goodness and moral courage is evident from the moment the reader meets him. Tom instinctively understands that what is good depends on context, and sometimes a good person must choose between the lesser of two evils. Certainly it is bad to steal, but he is encouraged by his only friend—an adult—to do so for the purpose of helping to feed a family.

When in Book 3, Chapter 2 Jones impetuously steps onto Squire Western's land and drags Black George along, he takes full responsibility, even though he is a child, rather than endanger the older man who can lose his job—or worse—as a result of poaching the bird. The Black Laws of Fielding's day allowed for the death penalty for serious crimes of poaching, and the narrator satirizes the attitude of landowners when he calls them "preservers of the game," who might be accused by some of the "superstitions" of the vegetarians of India for the "great severity with which they revenge the death of a hare or a partridge." He, on the other hand, has a better opinion of them, since they consume the beasts of the field and thus "fulfill this end of their creation."

Tom is beaten severely in Book 3, Chapter 2 for not giving up his accomplice, after which Thwackum and Squire get into a senseless argument in Book 3, Chapter 3. These two characters in the novel provide a great deal of comedy, but they are also meant to be seen as the worst kind of hypocrites, which the innocent Mr. Allworthy has hired to educate the two boys in his charge. Square has twisted the philosophy of Plato—specifically, his idea that there is a realm of perfect forms from which everything that exists in the world can be referenced—to come up with the notion that human nature is perfect. Similarly Thwackum twists the Christian tenet that man is born with original sin to come up with the idea that man is essentially bad and can become good only if he receives divine grace through the Church of England. Thwackum tries to "persaude Allworthy from showing any compassion or kindness" to Tom and even tries to give him a second whipping, which shows how little he understands about being Christian. An important theme in the novel is the difference between dogma and virtue; Thwackum follows the external rules of Christianity but shows, in his treatment of Tom, that he lacks virtue. Neither tutor seems capable of discerning the goodness in the child who tries to protect a man and his family from harsh punishment.

Appearance once again covers up reality when Blifil, clearly a liar, denies he has called Tom names and then tattles on him in Book 3, Chapter 4, which earns the approval of the tutors for bringing "truth to light." They dislike Tom because he is not good at flattering them, yet they fail to see the hypocrisy of Blifil who simply knows how to go along to get along.

Finally, Black George is shown to be a shady and unscrupulous character who hurts Tom more than once as the novel progresses. In these episodes he first encourages him—a child—to steal (the apples and duck) and then allows him to be severely scolded. He could have prevented Tom's beating simply by stepping forward as his accomplice in poaching—and chances are he would not have been fired by Mr. Allworthy in Book 3, Chapter 5 if he had come clean.

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