Compare & Contrast: Sophia and Tom Jones in Tom Jones

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      Introduction. Fielding had said clearly, in his Preface, that the use of burlesque would be restricted to the language of fiction, and not taken into the content. In the characterization of Sophia, we are given a clear example of Fielding's contention. Sophia herself is anything but a burlesque. She is beautiful, good, graceful, and above all, a real human being. But there are instances, such as when Fielding introduces her to the reader, where the burlesque enters the diction. The use of burlesque helps Fielding to describe Sophia without sentimentality. Fielding had the gift of being able to describe, without sentimentality, women as seen by men, with those feminine Qualities which men dream of rather than see in real life, as Hamilton Macallister observes. Sophia is 'real': Fielding's 'external' treatment, and the ironically flippant, burlesque diction, prevents both Fielding and the reader from becoming emotionally involved with her.

      Comparison and Contrast of Tom and Sophia. That Sophia is the moral centre of the novel, becomes even more apparent when we, study the contrast between Tom and her. Tom is vulnerable, easily tempted, though warm of heart. Sophia, on the other hand, is solid as a rock against forced alliances. She is opposed to an alliance with Tom till he proves himself worthy of her. But she does not make Tom's sexual freedom a ground of complaint against him. She shows a broadmindedness which is attractive and sensible. Tom has to go through a number of misadventures before he attains Sophia. But Sophia always loved Tom and knew instinctively that he was good. Both are alike in their good nature and generous and warm impulses. Tom, however, has not learnt the value of prudence. But he learns it by the end of the novel. Sophia already has the happy combination of good nature and good sense.

      Sophia is not Perfect: She has Human Weaknesses. The use of burlesque in the diction helps us to watch over the action from a detached distance. It leads to our appreciation of the human weaknesses with which Fielding endows his heroine. Sophia is not wooden and lifeless; she is not the embodiment of perfection. She is a real and vital character. She seems 'human'. Fielding has not made her too perfect to be convincing. He has given her little vanities and small foibles, which lend reality to her, while not detracting from her merits. Sophia can employ flattery on her Aunt Western to get her own ends.

      Burlesque does not Enter the Actual Character of Sophia. Fielding keeps burlesque clear of the actual portrait of Sophia. She is not ridiculed. She is always the object of respect, and sometimes, of awe. Even innkeepers are impressed by her appearance. Fielding tells us:

      There is indeed, in perfect beauty a power which none can understand: for my landlady, though she was not pleased at the negative given to supper, declared she had never seen so lovely a creature.

      In Sophia, we see a combination of a fresh simplicity of mind with the courage to go out alone in the world. She has the courage to face circumstances. She is quite ready even to meet the challenge of a highwayman.

      Sophia: The Moral Centre of the Novel. Sophia is Fielding's conception of what human beings can achieve in the way of perfection. Her beauty of body is matched by the beauty of soul. At the same time, however, she never becomes a prim and proper prude. She has her opinions and demands as regards the morality of a man whom she would take as a husband; but they are not rigid, uncompromising; hypocritical and unpalatable views on morality. When Tom declares:

"The delicacy of your sex cannot conceive the grossness of ours, nor how little one sort of amour has to do with the heart."

      Sophia firmly and with dignity replies:

"I will never marry a man who shall not learn refinement enough to be as incapable as I am of making the distinction."

      Sophia is a woman of principle, but she is not prudish.

      Conclusion. It would not be wrong to say that Sophia is morally at the centre of Tom Jones. She offers a contrast to Tom. She shows a moral integrity even while escaping prudery and stiffness. She is a vital, living character in the novel. She represents the healthy moral vision of Fielding. She is not made perfect, but she never loses our respect and affection.

University Questions

Write a note on the use of burlesque in Fielding's depiction of Sophia Western.
Comment on the significance of the role of Sophia in the plot of Tom Jones.
Comment on the view that Sophia is at the moral centre of Tom Jones.
Compare and contrast Sophia and Tom Jones.

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