Mock-Heroic Technique Used in the Novel Tom Jones

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      Introduction: What is 'Mock-heroic'. The mock-heroic technique, as the name itself suggests, implies a parody of the style of serious epic poetry. It is, however, to be noted that the parody does not mean dishonour to the epic convention. It is a means through which trivial occupations of human beings can be effectively ridiculed by describing them in an inflated diction. The sense of discrepancy between the elevated language used and the actual smallness of the thing described, gives rise to humorous irony. It is an effective weapon in the hands of an ironic humourist or a satirist. Fielding's conception of the novel as a 'comic epic in prose' presupposes the use of the mock-heroic style. It includes a deliberately inflated mode of description. It is also to be noted that the mock-heroic is more than a casual burlesque of an elevated style. It also involves the reader's awareness of a particular heroic convention. The sustained device of mock-heroic inevitably invites awareness from the reader of some unburlesqued original. There are a number of mock-heroic devices, which Fielding makes use of in Tom Jones.

      Invocations. Fielding uses a convention which is a staple ingredient of the epic and most effectively parodied in the mock epic. In the case of the description of Mrs. Waters's seduction of Tom, Fielding begins with an apt invocation:

Say then ye Graces! you that inhabit the heavenly mansions of Seraphina's countenance; for you are truly divine, are always in her presence, and well know all the arts of charming; say, what were the weapons now used to captivate the heart of Mr. Jones.

      Once again, in the case of the famous battle in the churchyard between Molly Seagrim and her detractors, Fielding begins with an invocation:

Ye Muses, then, whoever ye are, who love to sing battles, and principally thou who whilom didst recount the slaughter in those fields where Hudibras and Trulla fought, if thou were not starved with thy friend Butler, assist me on this great occasion. All tilings are not in the power of all.

      It is noteworthy that Fielding addresses the Muse who helped Samuel Butler, another writer of comic epics. The language is typical of the mock-heroic style.

      Mock-heroic Battles. One of the most famous instances in Tom Jones is the battle in the churchyard between Molly and her jealous neighbours. It is in true mock-heroic vein as far as description goes. The parody of the epic style is sustained throughout the passage. The chapter is significantly titled "A battle sung by the Muse in the Homerican style, and which none but the classical reader can taste." After the typical invocation; which has been quoted earlier, the battle proper begins. Fielding recounts the names of the victims of Molly's fury as she swings her thigh bone:

Recount, O Muse, the names of those who fell on this fatal day. First Jemmy Tweedie felt on his hinder head the direful bone. Him the peasant banks of sweetly-winded Stour had nourished where he first learn the art, with which, wandering up and down at wakes and fairs, he cheered the rural nymphs and swains when upon the green they interweaved the sprightly dance; write he himself stood fiddling and jumping to his own music. How little now avails his fiddle! He thumps the verdant floor with his carcass. Next, old Echepole, the sow-gelder.

      The passage is a clear parody of the Homeric technique of listing heroes in their fall and then recounting something of their earlier history. The pleasure of the reader is enhanced because of his awareness of the genuine epic tradition. Applied to Jemmy Tweedle and Echepole, the sow-gelder, it becomes really enjoyable.

      The battle between Partridge and his 'Amazonian' wife is in similar mock-heroic vein. It begins with an epic simile, in which Partridge is compared to a mouse and Mrs. Partridge to a cat. The next paragraph contains the description of the battle proper:

Not with less fury did Mrs. Partridge fly on the poor pedagogue. Her tongue, teeth, and hands fell all upon him at once. His wig was in an instant tom from his head, his shirt from back, and from his face descended five streams of blood, denoting the number of claws with which nature had unhappily armed his enemy.
In Book V, chapter 11, we have been given the title "In which a simile in Mr. Pope's period of a mile introduces as bloody a battle as can possibly be fought without the assistance of steel or cold iron." There is an elaborate mock-heroic preliminary to the discovery of Tom by Thwackum and Blifil in the bushes with Molly Seagrim. The battle at Upton Inn is also in typical mock-heroic style.

      Mock-heroic Style in the Description of the Amorous Battle of Mrs. Waters. The best example of the mock-heroic technique in Tom Jones is to be found in the scene of Mrs. Waters's seduction of Tom. The title of the chapter is revealing "An apology for all heroes who have good stomachs, with a description of a battle of the amorous kind". A misleading sense of sobriety marks the beginning of the chapter. Fielding shows that heroes suffer pangs of hunger just like any ordinary man. The chapter further introduces the subject of food which is to be a playful alternative to love in the encounter to follow. It is a "feint for the central matter of this chapter which is not food but love".

      Tom, at first, has eyes for nothing but food. Then Mrs. Waters discharges her "artillery". What a beautifully comical description of the amorous battle follows:

First, from two lovely blue eyes, whose bright orbs flashed lightning at their discharge, flew forth two pointed ogles; but, happily for our hero, hit only a vast piece of beef which he was then conveying into his plate, and harmless spent their force. The fair warrior perceived their miscarriage, and immediately from her fair bosom drew forth a deadly sigh.

      We are reminded of another mock battle in the epic strain—that between the books in Swift's Battle of the Books. The entire passage has to be read for the sustained mock-heroic effect to be appreciated.

      Epic Similes. Another aspect of the mock-heroic style is the incorporation of the extended similes of the epic tradition. Fielding seems quite fond of this convention. His similes are typical of the mock-heroic technique. The striking point about the mock epic simile is that the comparison is always made with a lower animal or some ridiculous object, so that the comic effect is heightened. Thus, at the very beginning, we have Mrs. Deborah Wilkins being compared to a kite:

Not otherwise than when a kite, tremendous bird, is beheld by the feathered generation soaring aloft, and hovering over their heads, the amorous dove, every innocent little bird, spread wide the alarm, and fly trembling to then-hiding places. He proudly beats the air, conscious of his dignity, and meditates mischief.

      Fielding explains in simpler language:

It is my intention, therefore, to signify that, as it is the nature of a kite to devour little birds, so it is the nature of such persons as Mrs. Wilkins to insult and tyrannise over little people.

      The mock-heroic tone is effectively sustained in the extended simile on Partridge and Mrs. Partridge. Mrs. Partridge is compared to a cat and Partridge himself to a mouse. The diction is elevated and Fielding makes use of high sounding words. It brings out the discrepancy between the style and the object, and heightens the sense of the ludicrous. The simile begins.

As fair Grimalkin, who, though the youngest of the feline family, degenerates not in ferocity from the elder branches of her house, and though inferior in strength, is equal in fierceness to the noble tiger himself, when a little mouse whom it hath long tormented in sport, escapes from her clutches for a while, frets, scolds, growls, swears; but if the trunk, or box, behind which the mouse lay hid be again removed, she flies like lightning on her prey, and, with envenomed wrath, bites, scratches, mumbles, and tears the little animal.

      The elevated words such as "ferocity", "degenerates" "envenomed wrath" are productive of laughter when they are used for a cat's chase after a mouse.

      Another ludicrous comparison occurs before the battle in the churchyard:

As a vast herd of cows in a rich farmer's yard, if, while they are milked, they hear their calves at a distance, lamenting the robbery which is then committing, roar and bellow, so roared forth the Somerset mob.

      The effect is all the more ridiculous when we recall the Homeric simile which is being burlesqued.

      Conclusion. Fielding had contended that the burlesque could be permitted in diction though not in content. The use of mock-heroic technique is in keeping with his view. Fielding, and other eighteenth-century novelists, wrote for two sections of the public — the ordinary or average readers, and the men learned in the classics. The mock-heroic style would produce laughter even in one who are not acquainted with the classical epic. Its effect, however, is enhanced if the reader is well versed in the Homeric tradition. The mock-heroic similes, invocations and descriptions get added point, if one is acquainted with the originals which they are parodying.

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