Human Nature & Life Illustrate in Tom Jones

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      The purpose of Fielding being to exhibit human nature, his most expressive characters are the ones most richly endowed with natural impulses. Most of the personages in the novel, whether great or small, possess a greater amount of character than their roles in the plot require. They come to life in more ways than the minor characters of Richardson. They possess an excess of vitality, which enriches the novel as a document of manners. Had Fielding's intention been like Richardson's, to depict a particular case, this excess might well have served to blur the main intention. As it is, however, it gives life and colour to the novel. The hero is a spectator of the scenes through which he moves as well as an actor in them. These scenes are infused with the zestful humour in which the author looks at life, and his ironic, though not unsympathetic, point of view provides a philosophical unity to the novel no less essential to it than the unity of the hero's actions. The hero is himself subservient to the social surroundings from which he gains experience. Whatever change there is in him is due to the maturing of his judgement in the light of such experience rather than to any deeply felt experience itself.

Characters: Embodiments of Human Nature

      It is in their exhibition of human nature that the characters of Tom Jones are most notable. Fielding does not view their doings simply in relation to a necessary sequence of events. Many of the acts recorded give rise to concomitant actions, which, though expressive of the natures of those involved, are not necessary to what will follow. A foundling in the bed of Mr. Allworthy naturally gives rise to a lot of gossip. The immediate reverberation of the mystery has little bearing upon the outcome of events. Had the author been writing a mystery story, he could have veiled it all in complete silence. But he is dealing with human nature, and Mrs. Deborah Wilkins is a human being as well as a servant. Accordingly, we are granted the spectacle of Mrs. Wilkins and her matronly friend scrutinizing the characters of several young girls in an endeavour to find a likely mother for the infant. Suspicion lights on Jenny Jones. She confesses, and Mr. Allworthy, a magistrate, punishes her by giving her a lecture upon chastity. She has once been the servant of a schoolmaster by the name of Partridge and, having also been his pupil, has occasioned some jealousy on the part of his wife. By a process of natural ramification, the appearance of a foundling in Mr. All worthy's home becomes the means of showing traits of character in several people. Mr. Allworthy’s simple goodness, Deborah’s servility and malicious curiosity, Partridge's vanity, and his wife's jealousy are all exposed. Bridget's behaviour, on this occasion, is veiled in mystery and Jenny's mystery, is also somewhat unaccountable. Since they are each playing a part which, as Fielding conceives his story, must be concealed from the reader, we have to wait until the secret of Tom's birth has come to light, to understand the meaning of their actions. The other characters are under no such constraint.

Exposure of Human Foibles

      Subsequently, the novel is rich in scenes designed for the exposure of human foibles. The marriage of Captain Blifil and Bridget is shown in all its sordidness of motive. The captain marries her for her expectations and dies while dreaming of the wealth he is to inherit. By thus dying, he regains the affection of his wife, who sets forth her devotion in a laudatory, but not too truthful, epitaph. Molly Seagrim's appearance in church in the discarded finery of Sophia so arouses the envy of the women of the parish that a battle takes place in the churchyard after the service. Mr. Allworthy, believing himself near death, calls the members of his household around him and explains to them the terms of his will. Square and Thwackiun, treated quite liberally, are dissatisfied with the number of their legacies. The housekeeper is displeased because she is not remembered in a special legacy but is placed with the other servants. Blifil indulges in a false exhibition of grief. Only Tom, who might reasonably have had greater expectations, is truly and disinterestedly sympathetic.

Facets of Human Nature Revealed through Different Actions and Situations

      Fielding's method of enriching his narrative with adventures on the way is illustrated on the journey to London. Having decided to go to sea, Tom sets out for Bristol, loses his way, and stops at an inn in company with a Quaker, who is vexed because his daughter has eloped with a poor man. The chance arrival of a company of soldiers causes Tom to join as a volunteer. Getting into a dispute, he receives a blow on the head, for which he is attended by a pretentious humbug of a physician who would make as much of his wound as possible. His assailant escapes and the company of soldiers departs, leaving him behind. While recuperating, he makes the acquaintance of Partridge, now a barber, who, for reasons of his own, joins Tom upon his expedition. One night, they stop at the home of a man known as the Man of the Hill, whom, they have the good fortune to rescue from robbers. During the night their host entertains them with an account of his adventures, a rather long story, which is itself interrupted by Partridge's account of a farmer boy who lost a mare and of the trial of a man accused of stealing it. Early the next morning Tom comes upon a ruffian in the act of tying a woman to a tree. He rescues her and has the satisfaction of discovering that her assailant is Ensign Northerton, who had given him the unavenged blow a few days before.

      Northerton escapes a second time, and Tom accompanies the woman he has rescued to an inn at Upton, where the condition of her attire causes her to be taken for a prostitute. This supposition leads to a fight in which, Tom, the woman, and Partridge take sides against the innkeeper, his wife and their maid-servant. Order is restored by the arrival of a small party of soldiers, one of whom identifies the woman who has been the occasion of the fracas as being Captain Waters's lady.

      In the events that follow there is a swift succession of ludicrous situations. Mrs. Waters dines with Tom and lures him into spending the night with her. Mr. Fitzpatrick arrives looking for his wife. Following a false clue, he breaks in upon Mrs. Waters and Tom and thus causes a disturbance that enables the real Mrs. Fitzpatrick to elude her pursuer. During the night, Sophia arrives with her maid and learns that Tom is also at the inn. Surprised to find that she has been the subject of gossip and learning that Tom is with Mrs. Waters, she departs before day-break and is soon joined on the road by Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who proves to be her cousin. Western arrives at the inn too late to intercept his daughter, and Mr. Fitzpatrick, knowing the squire, takes him to the room of Mrs. Waters, under the mistaken impression that she is Sophia.

      When order has been restored out of the ensuing confusion, nobody has much cause to be pleased with the events of the night. The pleasant little affair with Tom that Mrs. Waters has promised herself, is speedily ended. The squire is furious at missing his daughter while finding new evidence of her weakness for Tom. Sophia, we know, is in distress at what she has discovered, and Tom is unhappy for having given her such an excellent reason to run away from him.


      It would be easy to multiply instances of Fielding's ability to set forth his characters in their characteristic foibles. There is the scene of Black George's debate with his conscience, of Partridge at the theatre, of Sophia preparing to brave the dangers of the road. There is the scene of Western being taken to task by his sister, who believes that she knows better than he, how to manage Sophia. Not a scene in which the Squire appears, fails to catch the inflection of his passionate, undisciplined nature. It is in the portrait of this than of impulse with his drinking, his coarse language, and his excitability that Fielding's art rises to its greatest power.


"Tom Jones gives a combined impression still in living contact with Social fact, and of original comic genius rendering truly what human nature is." Illustrate.
"As a mere observer of human nature, Fielding was little inferior to Shakespeare." Discuss.
Show that Tom Jones belongs to that class of novels, the aim of which is to present, by a multitude of characters, a complete picture of human life.
"To read Tom Jones is a maturing experience; it gives a balancing insight into human nature, tolerance for its weaknesses and a larger gratitude for its strength". Do you agree with this dictum? Give reasons.

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