Characters Mind & Psychology in Tom Jones

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      Introduction. In the first chapter of Book I of Tom Jones, Fielding introduces his "bill of fare", which is to be human nature. But it is human nature as a general species that interests Fielding. It is not the subtle shades, intricate motivations and the surprising turns embodied in individual characters which Fielding endeavours to represent. He is concerned with manners, not men; with a species, not an individual, as he explains in Joseph Andrews. As a consequence; we find that Fielding is not very profound in his characterization. Nor is he inclined to probe deeply into the mysterious working of the human heart and mind. He is not concerned with complex human behaviour. His characterization is 'obvious'. One cannot refute the fact that Fielding's characterization lacks psychological depth. There were a number of reasons for this. Fielding's very theory of the novel as a 'comic epic in prose', to some extent, limits his method of characterization. Further, his classical tendencies also lead to his refusal to delve into the mysterious workings of human beings.

      General Representations, not Individualised Characters. Fielding was not interested in the exact system of motives in any particular person's mind at any moment. He is only interested in those features of an individual which are necessary to assign him to his moral or social species. His study of human beings is confined to men in general. He looks at man and human behaviour in the light of his general knowledge of manners. Anything purely individual is of no value because Fielding considers men as part on a system of classification, i.e., in general terms. The surface alone is sufficient to identify the specimen; hence, there is no need to look inside the human mind. As Dr. Johnson remarked, Fielding gives us the husk; because the expert does not need to assay the kernel.

      Fielding's primary objectives in the portrayal of character were limited though clear. He intended to assign them their proper place in the classification of human beings, by giving them as few diagnostic features as were necessary for the task.

      Fielding's method of characterization lies in a quick and clever penetration into the basic essence of the character. The individual was clearly labelled, and accorded his or her place in the classified order of human beings. After such a labelling, the character would, of course, have to act true to that label, i.e. consistently. Fielding does not make any effort to individualise his characters. Tom Jones, we will note, is a combination of two of the most common English names. Allworthy's name suggests his nature only too obviously. Tom is the representative of the "best-natured creature that ever was born." He is warm-hearted. Allworthy, too, is a good man, but a "cold" one. There lies his deficiency.

      Fielding's Refusal to Look Inside the Mind of His Characters Some Reasons. There are a number of reasons for Fielding's refusal to analyse his characters' motivations and inner thoughts. The eighteenth century had a penchant for 'decorum'. Lady Mary Wortley, Fielding's cousin, is reported to have remarked that it was very bad manners for Richardson's heroines to "declare all they think", since "fig leaves are as necessary for our minds as our bodies". The classical approach itself demanded a certain amount of reticence, as far the exposure of the inner working of the mind was concerned. There was a tendency in the classical attitude to avoid the intimate and confessional approach to personality.

      Fielding was, moreover, writing a 'comic' novel. The comic purpose itself required an external approach. There was every need for the reader to view the characters with a detachment; otherwise the comic aspect would tend to get blurred. Distance between reader and character would have to be maintained so that the reader does not identify himself with the character, or get involved too deeply. Too close an identification would prevent the reader from appreciating and enjoying the humour of the larger comedy in which the characters are visible participants. Thus, for comic appreciation, it becomes necessary to keep the characters at a distance. For the detached effect, one has to keep the reader from getting too involved with the characters, and for this, it becomes necessary to stick to the superficial. As soon as the writer becomes 'psychological’ and tries to analyse the minds of his characters, he involves the reader and makes him identify himself with the characters. Such an identification would be disastrous for the comic purpose.

      Comic Purpose Restricts Psychological Approach. In the novel Tom Jones, one can see the limitations imposed on characterization by the comic purpose. The psychological probing into a character's mind, feelings, emotions and motives, is precluded by the necessity of having to keep the reader at a detached position from the characters. Fielding avoids any detailed presentation of Tom's feelings. In the scene which occurs after Tom has heard that Allworthy is to recover from his illness, he takes a walk in a "most delicious grove". Contemplating the cruelty of fortune which separates him from his beloved Sophia, he declares:

"Was I but possessed of thee, only one suit of rags my whole estate, is there a man on earth whom I would envy! How contemptible would the brightest Circassian beauty, dressed in all the jewels of the Indies, appear to my eyes! But why do I mention another woman? Could I think of any other with tenderness, these hands should tear them from my head. No, my Sophia, if cruel fortune separates us forever, my soul shall dote on thee alone. The chastest constancy will I ever preserve to thy image..."

      At these words, there appears neither Sophia nor a bejewelled Circassian maid, but Molly Seagrim, with whom Tom retires to "the thickest part of the grove". The least convincing part of this scene is the diction. It bears little relation to what we expect from Tom. But the diction is a stylistic device used by Fielding for the purpose of comic deflation of the heroic and romantic pretenses of the human word by the unheroic and unromantic eloquence of the human deed. Fielding cannot pause to give us the psychological processes whereby Tom is changed from Sophia's romantic lover to Molly's immediate lover. Detailed psychological analysis of Tom's feelings would have also jeopardized the comic intention in the episode.

      Psychological analysis, by its very nature, would make us take the character too seriously. Fielding had to keep clear of it; he had to manipulate the incident in such a way as to discourage us from giving it a significance which it might have in ordinary life. "Comedy, and especially comedy on an elaborate scale, often involves this kind of limited liability to psychological interpretation", as Ian Watt points out. It explains Blifil's malice, and Sophia's sufferings. Allworthy's sudden illness and recovery, which have led to Tom's lapse, must be placed in the same perspective. If Allworthy is incapable of judging between a cold and a mortal illness, we are not intended to draw the implications for his character that he is either an outrageous hypochondriac or unskilled in choosing his physicians. Allworth's illness, remarks Ian Watt, "is only a diplomatic chill, and we must not infer anything from it except a shift in Fielding's narrative policy." The plot in Tom Jones gains more importance than characterization.

      Lack of Psychological Depth Leads to "Emotional Artificiality". The external approach to characterization, i.e., the lack of psychological probing into the minds of the characters, is intentional in Fielding. His avoidance of the subjective aspect is part of his comic approach. But it has its own drawbacks. Indeed, Fielding's limitations are most apparent when his characters reach moments of crisis. Coleridge has rightly pointed out the inadequacy of the soliloquies of Tom and Sophia before their final reconciliation. Nothing could be "more forced and unnatural; the language is without vivacity or spirit, the whole matter is incongruous, and totally devoid of psychological truth", says Coleridge. It is the stock comic scene. The penitent hero's elevated sentiments are countered by the equally elevated scorn of the faithless suitor on the heroine's part. Sophia's sudden acceptance of Tom surprises us. Comic life has been achieved at the expense of the reality of emotions involved, as Ian Watt observes.

      The same emotional artificiality exists throughout Tom Jones. Tom, when he is dismissed from Allworthy’s residence, "presently fell into the most violent agonies, tearing his hair from his head and using most other actions which generally accompany fits of madness, rage and despair," He reads Sophia's letter "a hundred times over, and kissed it a hundred times as often". These are hackneyed hyperboles, and they are used to emphasise the intensity of his characters' emotions. They underline the price he has to pay for his comic approach. Naturally, a convincing and continuous access to the inner life of his characters is denied to Fielding. Whenever their emotional life is to be presented, it has to be done externally by making them indulge in exaggerated physical reactions.

      Fielding tends to try to escape from the necessity of having to express his characters' inner feelings and thoughts. He does so by saying, for instance, that "his thoughts, his looks, his words, his actions were such as beggar all description." Sometimes, he skates over a scene with a few general words: "It is impossible to conceive a more tender or moving scene than the meeting between uncle and nephew...". The serious scenes are often rendered in a rhetorical language, or in a stilted and artificial diction.

      External Approach Leads to Limitation of Psychological Development. The external approach to characterization has another serious drawback. The characters are left with very limited possibilities of psychological development. The characters do not have a convincing inner life. Tom Jones's character shows some development, but it is of a very general kind. Tom's early indiscretions, his youthful lack of worldly wisdom, and his healthy animal vitality, for example, lead to his disgrace, his dismissal from Allworth's house, his difficulties on the road to London, and his apparently irrevocable loss of Sophia's affection. But his good qualities, his valour, honour, and his benevolence, all of which have been seen at the very beginning, eventually combine to extricate him from the difficulties. Although different qualities come to the fore at different times, they have all been present from the very beginning. We have not been taken close enough to the hero's mind; we have to trust Fielding's implication that his hero will be able to control his weaknesses by the wisdom which he has learned of experience.

      Fielding's Static View on Human Nature: Typical of His Time. Fielding was following the Aristotelian view in his static view of human nature. It was an attitude which was held with great rigidity by some of his contemporary critics and philosophers, In Joseph Andrews, Fielding has said that his characters were "taken from the life", but added that they were "not only alive, but have been so these four thousand years. Human nature is stable, and there is no need to detail the processes whereby any one example has reached its full development. The same view governs the fact that personal relationships are also relatively unimportant in Tom Jones., If characters are unchanging and innate, there is no reason why Fielding should pay attention to their mutual feelings, since they cannot play a decisive role.

      The Plot of Tom Jones has Priority. The structure of Tom Jones, as a whole depends upon the lack of effective communication between the characters. Blifil must misunderstand Sophia, and Allworthy must fail to see Blifil in his true colours. Tom must be unable to explain himself properly either to Allworthy or to Sophia until the final scenes. Ian Watt rightly observes that, "since Fielding's view of human life and his general literary purpose did not permit him to subordinate his plot to the deepening exploration of personal relationships, he needed a structure based on an elaborate counterpoint of deception and surprise, and this would be impossible if the characters could share each other's mind and take their fates into their own hands". Plothas priority in Tom Jones, and it is therefore plot and not character, which must contain the elements of complication and development. The characters are always clear cut, and, in this respect, simple. They lack the "blurred edges of modem fiction". The structure of the novel is imposed on them; they do not make the structure. But within the structure, they do deserve their destinies; they get their deserts with the help of "coincidences which make their own efforts seem ironic", as Hamilton Macallister remarks.

      Conclusion. It cannot be denied that Tom Jones shows a lack of psychological depth in characterization. Fielding had many reasons for this refusal to look deep into the minds of his characters. He "avowedly and even ostentatiously refused to go deep into the minds of his characters, on the general grounds that "it is our province to relate facts and we shall leave causes to person; of much.....higher genius". Fielding considers it to be "an ill office.....to pay a visit to the inmost recesses" of any character's mind. When he comes to present Sophia's feelings when she first learns of Tom's love, he excuses himself with the words, "as to the present situation of her mind I shall adhere to the rule of Horace, by not attempting to describe it, from despair of success". His comic purpose precluded the exhibition of the inner workings of his characters. He had to keep the readers at a detached position, and he could do this only through the external approach to characterization. The refusal to go beyond the superficialities, limits the psychological development of the characters. Yet one cannot term Fielding as a second-rate novelist because of it. His method of characterization was essential to his comic purpose. It is what keeps Sophia from becoming sentimentalised. It is what keeps the reader at the distance required to enhance the comic effect. It has its drawbacks, but Fielding was writing a type of novel in which plot had priority over characterization.

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