Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 6 Chapters 21 30 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 6, Chapters 21–30 | Summary



Tristram interrupts his tale once more to describe the model fortifications Uncle Toby is building at Shandy Hall. Whenever a new siege is begun, he reports, Toby and Corporal Trim set about recreating the town and its environs on a miniature scale, with the whole scene taking up about "a rood and a half" (i.e., three eighths of an acre) of ground. Then, every time news of the siege reaches England, Toby updates his model siege works to match the latest intelligence. Tristram promises to give a more detailed account of this process in a separate work.

One development, however, is so extraordinary that Tristram is compelled to describe it before moving on with his own story. As the war wears on, he explains, Toby and Trim find it difficult to "keep up something like a continual firing" to simulate the use of siege artillery. To solve this problem, Trim connects a pair of "Turkish tobacco pipes" (hookahs) to several tiny cannons. The next morning Toby wakes up to find the siege in full swing.

When Toby walks out onto the siege works, he finds Trim puffing furiously and smoke pouring out of the jury-rigged cannons. After a few minutes' hesitation, Toby grabs one of the pipes and does his part to keep the cannons going. Afterwards, he and Trim keep augmenting and rearranging their miniature fort until the Treaty of Utrecht is signed, bringing an end to the war. With no battles being fought by England's forces on the continent, Toby has no reason to go on staging his own small-scale battles in the garden.


The hookah-cannon invention is something of a "star turn" for Corporal Trim, who has been diligent and resourceful in previous fort-building scenes, but not particularly creative. The episode might also be seen as a counterbalance to Trim's earlier, dubious decision to use the lead sash-weights as raw material for his siege weapons. If Trim is sometimes remarkably obtuse and single-track minded in building, he is evidently also capable of the occasional stroke of genius.

At the same time, the use of the hookahs is another piece of self-sacrificing generosity on Trim's part, since he received them as a gift from his brother Tom. His decision to repurpose them for Uncle Toby's pleasure is consistent with the description of Trim in Vol. 5, Chapter 19: "had it been his last crown, he would have sate [sic] down and hammered it into a paderero [a small cannon] to have [anticipated] a single wish in his Master."

By describing the Treaty of Utrecht as a stroke of bad luck, however, Tristram sets up a character problem. Almost everyone would agree that peace is preferable to war, since it means an end to the killing, maiming, and general disorder war inevitably brings. For Toby, however, the end of the war has a decided drawback: it robs him of an excuse for building his miniature forts. The reader is thus left to wonder how Toby—a warm-hearted humanitarian, but also a soldier and an obsessive hobbyist—will take the news. After all, backyard fort-building may be a silly pastime, as Walter certainly believes it to be, but it has also helped Toby to recover his zest for life after a career-ending injury, and it has provided Trim with a more dignified and soldier-like employment than merely fetching books and maps. Uncle Toby's mixed feelings about the Peace of Utrecht will be explored in the next few chapters.

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