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Tom Jones | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How does Fielding show in Tom Jones that people are treated unequally under the law?

Fielding shows that the lower classes are treated with more severity under the law than the middle and upper classes. For example, in Book 4, Chapter 11 Allworthy is ready to jail Molly for being pregnant. Perhaps he is severer because she has been charged with assaulting the fiddler, but as soon as Tom speaks up for her as the child's father he lets her go. She is of a lower class than Jenny Jones, who (he thinks) left a baby in his bed and won't even tell him the identity of the father. Yet she gets off with only a scolding and even gets help to be set up in a new life. Similarly when Tom Jones is thought to have lower-class status he is grabbed by Fellamar's men for impressment, but when it comes to light that Tom Jones is the nephew of a man of class and fortune Fellamar changes his tune and apologizes, along with Mr. Fitzpatrick, for how they have treated Tom (Book 18, Chapter 11).

Why does Fielding single out hypocrisy for particular scorn in Tom Jones?

First, while people may have a vice—such as greed or lust, for example—hypocrisy added to the vice makes it worse because more people get hurt when a hypocrite lies about his or her weaknesses. For example, Bridget Allworthy's extramarital affair results in an illegitimate child, but the fact that she lies to her brother about being Tom's mother sets off a chain of events that creates unnecessary suffering for both Tom and Mr. Allworthy because they don't realize they are related. Second, when a person pretends to uphold certain morals or standards and then violates them that hypocrite creates scandal by the combination of immoral acts and lies, undermining the community's trust. For example, when Tom finds Mr. Square in Molly's room in Book 5, Chapter 5 he sees that Square doesn't follow his own rules of honorable behavior, which makes him look like a fool and also gives philosophers a bad reputation. The author also presents how one's station in the hierarchy of class, as well as gender, affect the "bending" of morality. Droit du Signor was still practiced in Fielding's day, by which the lord had the right to bed the bride of one of his servants prior to allowing the marriage—a practice joked about in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (1786). Thus the lower classes were expected to behave like brutes and were treated as such. The upper classes who should set a better example got away with almost anything because they had power and money. Fielding's time was when these assumptions were starting to break down.

In what ways does a comic work like Tom Jones limit an author's ability to create three-dimensional characters?

A comic work limits an author's ability to create characters with true depth because the comic depends to a large degree on stereotypes and avoids the tragic side of life that is needed to enlarge personality. Comedy must deliver happy endings; thus a comic character is prevented from experiencing the full range of human emotion—omitting the tragic aspects of human life. For example, if Sophia had been raped or had lost Tom to the temptations of Arabella Hunt she would have experienced psychological trauma or intense loss, which would have given her character three-dimensionality but would have sacrificed her happiness as well as ruined the comedy. In the same way if Tom had lost Sophia to a marriage with Blifil or ended up serving a prison sentence or dying on the gallows he would have experienced a larger range of human emotions, which would have deepened his understanding of desolation. But this would have ruined the sunny Tom of the novel and also destroyed the comedy.

How do some of the characters in Tom Jones pervert the virtue of prudence?

True prudence requires the ability to discriminate right from wrong and the strength of character to do what is right. A perversion of prudence is focusing on how things appear to other people and then having the shrewdness to appear as if one is always choosing the right path. Mr. Blifil is a master at appearing righteous when he is in fact lying and scheming and doing his best to ruin his brother's life. Blifil convinces Mr. Allworthy that he has continually protected Tom out of love for him and pretends he has been hiding his brother's misdeeds from his uncle. In fact he exaggerates Tom's misdeeds and tells them out of context so they appear a lot worse. Blifil pretends to care for Sophia and have pious thoughts about marriage when in fact he is interested only in possessing Sophia for her money and later for spite. Similarly Mrs. Western tries to school Sophia in prudence and teach her that the purpose of marriage for a woman is to enrich herself and her family and their social standing with the right partner.

How does Fielding address the conventions of fiction in Tom Jones?

The author consistently steps in as himself to explain to the reader his process for constructing the fiction of Tom Jones and by instructing readers how they should interpret and understand his work. For example, in Book 1, Chapter 1 he tells the reader he is presenting them with a "bill of fare" from which they can "acquaint" themselves with the "entertainment," which immediately breaks the illusion that a fiction is something real that the reader accesses upon opening a book cover. The author also touts himself as the cook who will spice up his offering before he serves it for the purpose of delighting the reader. In Book 2, Chapter 1 the narrator warns the reader that, should an "extraordinary scene" present itself, he will happily "spare no pains nor paper to open it at large to our reader," but on the other hand he will skip over whole years in the hero's history if nothing happens that is interesting or worthy of notice. In each of these introductory chapters the narrator breaks the fictional "wall" to expound upon the process of creating fiction.

Why is gratitude touted as an important virtue in Tom Jones?

Gratitude is a key virtue for the Christian humanist because it links human beings with their creator. Gratitude requires humility and the willingness to admit that a person depends on others for survival and happiness. The worst sin is ingratitude—Lucifer's sin when he turned his back on God and thought to raise up an army against him, forgetting that God was the creator. This is why Mr. Allworthy becomes so angry at Tom and decides to throw him out—he thinks he has been ungrateful toward Blifil, who in his mind has always looked out for him and defended him. Thus when he hears Tom has beaten Blifil and now wishes to "steal away" Sophia, he cannot forgive him. Allworthy calls Tom an "abandoned reprobate," saying "there is no part of your conduct which I resent more than your ill-treatment of that good young man (meaning Blifil) who hath behaved with so much tenderness and honour towards you." Those who lack gratitude also lack the ability to repent their bad actions because they do not admit they are wrong. This is why Tom's conduct appears in such a bad light to his uncle. Allworthy calls him a reprobate because ingratitude cuts off the possibility of redemption.

How do the attitudes of servants in Tom Jones demonstrate the friction between the upper/middle classes and lower classes?

The servants in the novel often express resentment toward their masters and even undermine them and betray them. Mrs. Deborah Wilkins goes behind Bridget's back to report to Captain Blifil when she thinks she has found the father of Tom Jones. She has no real loyalty toward Bridget, which is why Bridget sends Mrs. Wilkins away when she is ready to give birth. The servants at times identify with their masters—for example, when Partridge brags that Tom is rich or when Mrs. Honour becomes indignant when an innkeeper thinks Sophia is the mistress of the Young Pretender, Charles Stuart. At the same time Partridge continually gossips against Tom and disparages him behind his back. Mrs. Honour thinks about betraying Sophia early on, even after she agrees to run away from home with her, and she refuses to help Tom Jones after she switches her allegiance to Lady Bellaston. The maid Betty betrays Sophia to Mrs. Western. And finally Black George, the gamekeeper on Allworthy's estate whom Tom thinks is a friend, betrays him more than once without much remorse. The attitudes of the servants show they feel resentment about the inequality that exists between themselves and their masters and clearly see that their interests are different from those of the upper classes. The age of Enlightenment began to introduce ideas about equality and the rights of man, and Fielding portrays servants who are beginning to express class resentment.

In Tom Jones why does Sophia agree to marry Tom right after she says he needs to wait 12 months and prove his loyalty?

Sophia berates Tom in Book 18, Chapter 12 for his behavior in Upton, so soon after he claimed his heart was bleeding for her—even while putting aside his more recent escapade with Lady Bellaston. "Can I believe the passion you have professed to me to be sincere? Or, if I can, what happiness can I assure myself of with a man capable of so much inconstancy?" Although she insists on a 12-month trial to convince herself that Tom has truly reformed, she agrees to marry him immediately after her father commands it. This is what Sophia truly wishes to do, and the evidence of that is that she invites her father to command her. Sophia has been convinced by Tom's argument that his dalliances never affected his love for her and that he has banished all thoughts of other women now that he knows he may actually marry her. Although she should make him wait to satisfy her female pride, her feminine desire finds him irresistible and gives in to him. In the end Sophia, like all the other women who have succumbed to Jones's charms, does not wish to delay the consummation of her love by having to wait a year.

How do the characters in Tom Jones use money to abuse power and influence?

Money is a symbol of power in the novel, and several characters use it to influence other people or gain control over them. Squire Western threatens his daughter Sophia that he will disown her and not even provide food for her to eat if she disobeys him and refuses to marry Blifil. Mrs. Western punishes her niece Harriet for running off with the man they were both attracted to and denies her access to the family and any material help that will allow her to leave her husband without having to become the mistress of some other man. Lady Bellaston uses money to control Tom once she has convinced him to sleep with her. He feels obligated to keep having sex with her because she has given him money and is supporting him in London. On the other hand Mr. Allworthy never uses his money to subjugate others but instead to raise others up and help them be autonomous. For example, he gives Jenny Jones (Mrs. Waters) and Mrs. Miller money for a new start so they can be independent and have the opportunity to live a moral life. While Mrs. Miller uses his money for this purpose, Jenny does not.

In what ways does Fielding use verbal and double irony in Tom Jones?

The narrator in Tom Jones uses different types of irony for comic effect and also to make his social and moral points. First he uses simple verbal irony to say the opposite of what he means. For example, he says in Book 2, Chapter 2 that Bridget delivered a boy eight months after her marriage to Captain Blifil "by reason of fright," by which he means to say that this was the excuse for the early delivery since the bride was clearly pregnant before marriage. In another example the author uses verbal irony to convey his true feelings about the subject, when he sarcastically says in Book 3, Chapter 10 Black George bagged one hare for "want of bread, either to fill his own mouth or those of his family ... [and] basely and barbarously knocked [it] on the head, against the laws of the land, and no less against the laws of sportsmen." It is clear from his tone and choice of words that he does not consider George's action to be a crime. As pointed out by the critic E. Taiwo Palmer, sometimes Fielding uses double irony, as when Allworthy lectures Jenny Jones for giving birth to a bastard. He notes that her lack of continence has terrible consequences for her and refers to what she has done as a "heinous crime." While the narrator agrees in part that Jenny has violated moral norms, he also feels Allworthy is exaggerating the seriousness of the crime. Thus the reader simultaneously disapproves of Jenny's conduct while also disapproving of Allworthy's response, which is overblown. In cases of double irony the narrator often has more than one target. Allworthy tells Jenny in Book 1, Chapter 7 none but "reprobate persons ... will associate with you." Clearly Allworthy thinks this is a just consequence, but the narrator disagrees with both Allworthy's endorsement of his society's attitude to shun a woman who has a child out of wedlock as well as society's assessment of her.

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