Tom Jones: Character Analysis in Tom Jones

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      Tom Jones: Reflection of Fielding as a Handsome Young Man. Tom Jones, the hero of the novel, was created after the likeness of Fielding himself, as he was in his youth. He was not, indeed, so tall as Fielding, being less than 6 feet in stature; but, like Fielding, he was one of the handsomest young fellows in the world, endowed with a very fine person and a most comely set of features. His countenance, indeed, was almost effeminate in its beauty; but any appearance of softness was corrected by a most masculine frame and carriage, which latter had as much in them of the Hercules as the former had of the Adonis. "He was in truth a robust young man, a tireless walker, a fearless rider and a boxer in strength and agility almost a match for a professional." He had, moreover, an air of dignity and natural good breeding; even when dressed in a suit of fustian, with a cheap brass-handled sword at his side, he looked a gentleman.

      Interesting Character. His character is interesting. Nature had endowed him with many estimable qualities. He was constitutionally frank and open (detesting every species of falsehood and dishonesty), generous even to excess, chivalrously disinterested, and, though quick tempered, devoid of malice. He had a conscience for though he did not always act rightly, yet he never did otherwise without feeling and suffering for it. He had a strong sense of honor; though he was apt to be greatly mistaken in his view of what honor required. He was even, in a rather vague way, religious. His outstanding quality, however, on the credit side of his character, was the virtue which Fielding most admired—good nature, goodness of heart. He was indeed the very incarnation of good-natured manhood. 'I do not pretend to say', cried Mrs. Miller, 'the young man is without faults; but they are...vastly overbalanced by one of the most humane, tender, honest hearts that ever man was blest with. 'I know’, said Allworthy, he has been guilty of faults; but there is great goodness of heart at the bottom.

      Tom Jones is innocent—literally. He is 'harmless', and he means well. You will notice that everything he does of any consequence in the early books is commented on, usually at length, by a chorus of observers, with Thwackum and Square at the center. One of the most interesting examples of this, is the incident of Sophia's tame bird which Jones gives to her. One day Blifil cuts the thread of the bird and it flies away on to a tree. Trying to recapture it, Jones falls into a canal, the bird flies on and is killed, as Blifil coolly later reveals (he alone noticed it), by a 'nasty hawk'. This incident is full of subtleties. Sophia's agitation, when Jones falls into the water, is a hint to the reader—not yet known to herself—of her feelings for Jones. Blifil claims that he wanted to set the bird free. Fielding uses Blifil's frank excuse to make a parody of the sort of argumentation that belonged to the 'age of reason' Square, Allworthy, Thwackum, an unknown lawyer (who could be Dowling), and finally, Squire Western, have something to say. Western, who has no brains for this sort of disputation, comes straight to the truth "To venture breaking his neck to oblige my girl was a generous-spirited action" (Book 4 Chapter 4.)

      Jones is always safe with people who look straight at him, and judge him instinctively Sophia has this instinctive judgment and she falls in love with him.

      His Benevolent Temperament. In the case of Tom Jones, his good nature, or good-heartedness meant precisely two things—first a readiness to do a kindness whenever an opportunity offered, and secondly, a determination to inflict no injury on anyone, if he could help it. On the, one hand, he sincerely delighted in rendering services to his fellow creatures. He was, indeed, one of the best-natured fellows alive and had that weakness which is called compassion, and which distinguishes this imperfect character from that noble firmness of mind.

      Major Flaws in His Character. But, while full allowance must be made for Tom's 'good-heartedness', he was very far indeed from being a model character. He 'had naturally violent animal spirit', which carried him away into all manner of extravagances. As a lad, he was 'an idle, thoughtless, rattling rascal' disrespectful to his tutor, and prone to mischievous frolics. Nor, as he grew up, did he acquire sobriety. With all his 'goodness of heart and openness of temper', he was incorrigibly wayward and imprudent; so that he was generally accounted (not without reason) "one of the wildest fellows in England'. His trouble, in fact, was that, apart from these two 'good natured' rules of doing kindness whenever possible, and of injuring nobody, he had no fixed principles. He lived by impulse, not by reason. Dominated by the emotion that chanced to be uppermost at the moment, he was apparently incapable of controlling his passions. When delighted, or grieved, or angry, or anxious, he was apt to fall into paroxysms of frenzied excitement, and to behave literally like a madman. And, as might have been expected of one so volatile and unbalanced, his conduct was singularly confused and illogical, a strange compound of good and evil. For instance, he 'scorned a lie', yet lied with obstinacy; but lied only in order to screen a humble friend. His actions are indications of a disordered mind. Indeed, perhaps the most that can be said for poor Tom is that, though heedless and reckless, he was not radically vicious; and that, in balancing his faults with his perfections, the latter seem rather to preponderate.

      The world is complicated, and Fielding draws webs of complication over Jones's behavior. From the beginning, we are aware of a mysterious barrier between Jones and the benevolent Allworthy which, surely, shouldn't be there with people living in the same household. Mr. Allworthy never looks straight at Jones; he examines him like the headmaster of a very large school, confronted with Jones Minor, who, it has been reported, has done something thoroughly unsatisfactory. With Allworthy, Jones is at the mercy of other people — of their reporting of him and his behavior. He is eager to rush into blame, accept responsibility and at first, with the incident of the Bible and the 'little horse' (Book III Chapter 8-9), he does not lose by this trait. He falls in love with Sophia but he still feels responsible for Molly. Fielding treats this with great subtlety, as he does the whole business of Jones's falling in love with Sophia and she with him. It is mostly done in narrative. Fielding talks about the feelings of the two of them as if they were specimens under a glass. He says of Jones: 'And to be the author of this highest degree of misery to a human being (letting down Molly) was a thought on which he could nor bear to ruminate a single moment. By this time, he had entirely succumbed to Sophia's much superior charms. The citadel of Jones was now taken by surprise, but till he heard he was probably not the father of Molly's child, Jones's heart, if I may use a metaphor, was entirely evacuated, and Sophia took absolute possession of it.

     But as the novel proceeds, Jones seems to coarsen. After the first six boyhood books, I think Fielding never takes such care again with motivation. One gets the impression of a Hogarthian Rake's Progress — Jones becoming a little coarser, and less worried about consequences each time. The affair with Mrs. Waters is, as it were, the watershed. She is a challenge. As a result of this, he has apparently lost Sophia and despair, you could argue, blunts a scrupulous conscience. By the time Lady Bellaston gets hold of him, he is moving from one crisis of agony to another. And what irritates us in the later books, is Jones's growing helplessness.

     His flaws are due to unfavorable circumstances. Moralists have dealt harshly with this young man; yet some pleas may reasonably be urged in his defence. The circumstances of his early life were hardly propitious for the development of character. He passed his boyhood among people who, with very few exceptions, disliked him, magnified his failings, and predicted that he was certainly born to be hanged. Nobody really sympathized with him; nobody troubled to understand him, or to give him the judicious guidance which a mettlesome lad required. Allworthy, indeed, was kind, but stiff and inaccessible; Thwackum used him barbarously; Square was 'active in injustice towards him'; Mrs. Blifil, at first, seemed to hate him, though later she took him into favor; young Blifil never let pass an opportunity of doing him an ill. The solitary boy was thus driven to consort with the friends who alone seemed to appreciate him—the thieving game-keeper, Black George, and the boisterous, hard drinking sportsman, Squire Western. It is to his credit that, with such an upbringing, his morals and manners were not worse than, in fact, they were.

     Everything goes wrong for him — from Book IV, Chapter 3 (the incident of Sophia's escaped bird), to Book XIII, Chapter 3, when he offers the fifty pounds he has received from Lady Bellaston to Mrs. Miller for her starving cousin; he has a long bad period, though, in this central Journey, there are episodes which take our mind away from his fortunes, such as those of the puppet-master, and the gypsies. And Jones himself is changing. This change really becomes apparent when Mrs. Miller comes on the scene. Her cousin happens to be married to the highwayman whom Jones has forgiven and helped in Book XII, Chapter 14, and this generosity, disapproved of so strongly by Partridge, starts a chain-reaction which continues now with Mrs. Miller's determined advocacy of Jones. But, at the same time, his struggles grow more and more like those of a fly in a web. Mrs. Miller's importance here is immense; in the exotic, 'seasoned' atmosphere of tlie final Books, she is like a Shakespearean 'outside' character — like Paulina, for example, in The Winter's Tale. Jones is in danger of becoming like Captain Booth in Amelia; a sort of whipping block for Fielding's guilt. Mrs. Miller prevents this. The way in which Jones offers the fifty pounds, his first 'wages' from Lady Bellaston, straight to her, is superbly timed. It reminds us of Fielding's life Friendship has called for the money — the tax-collector must call again. This is the side of Jones that Partridge can make no sense of. 'Every parish ought to keep their own poor,' Partridge says to the beggar-man (Book XII, Chapter 4). But instead of being the end of Jones, it is the beginning of his recovery. Mrs. Miller's daughter Nancy, Nightingale, and the two senior Nightingales form a smaller world within a world, in which, later, Jones
moves like an angel of justice, and this is the evidence that, after Upton, he has changed; he is worthy of Sophia at last (We think we should remember here that his living as a 'kept man' with Lady Bellaston, which has offended more people than has the short-sharp affairs with Mrs. Waters, has much more justification — that he and Partridge would otherwise have starved.

      But the justice which Jones administers in his role, is not 'strict justice'.

      Middleton Murry, defending Jones, uses the expression, 'generosity of the body'; rather a Lawrentian phrase, but clear enough to those who have persisted to this point in their reading of Fielding. Dreaming of Sophia, and seeing Molly, he thinks any woman is better than none at all—and this psychological truth, which Thackeray, constricted by Victorian morality, envied Fielding's freedom to take up, enlarged the scope of the English novel.

      That is one impression of Tom Jones; we don't think it was quite Fielding's intention to produce this impression. Fielding saw Jones, like Parson Adams, in a different context, as being essentially a good man. He was good because he had a warm heart, and because intention, or motives, are what count.

      Tom's Depravity. Above all, the only grave charge that can be brought against Tom Jones is his incontinence with women—particularly his liaison with Lady Bellaston The two earlier affairs were comparatively venial. The "Molly Seagrim episode' was brought about by that artful young person herself, who, having had amorous experience already, knew exactly how to behave so as to overcome the virtuous resolutions of her lover. The affairs with Mrs. Waters, too, can he judged indulgently, when it is remembered that Tom was attacked by a clever woman many years older than himself, who deliberately brought to bear 'the whole artillery of love'—'every engine of amorous warfare', in which she was expert— to subdue his virtue.

      The 'Bellaston intrigue' was a far more serious matter, and it is this that is chiefly cited as evidence of Tom's depravity. Richardson branded Tom Jones as 'a kept fellow, the lowest of all fellows'; Lady Mary thought him 'a scoundrel'; Byron, a pretty bad sinner himself, classed him among 'accomplished blackguards'. Yet, without any question of whitewashing, there are, in this case, certain mitigating circumstances which ought to be taken into account.

      In Defence of Tom's Character. It must be remembered that Tom was a simple country boy, who had never been to London, and who was in consequence 'thoroughly ignorant of the town, and in particular of ways of that discreetly profligate society'. Lady Bellaston's advances on the night of the masquerade took him completely by surprise. He 'had never less inclination to an amour' than on that evening; but he feared to offend a person who had it in her power to put him in touch with his adored Sophia; also, 'gallantry to the ladies was among his principles of honor', and—however foolishly and wrongly—'he held it as much incumbent off him to accept a challenge to love, as if it had been a challenge to fight'. He, therefore, complied with the undesired invitation. Unfortunately, at the moment, he was in desperate need for money; in deed, he had literally not a shilling in the world. Hence the temptation to accept her ladyship's gift of £ 50 was almost irresistible. But, having thus put himself in her debt, he felt that he would be guilty of the grossest ingratitude if he did not make the return expected of him. 'He knew the tacit consideration upon which all her favors were conferred; and as his necessity obliged him to accept them, so his honor, he concluded, forced him to pay the price.' As soon, however, as he learned from Nightingale what the woman's true character was, and realized that he need not feel particularly obliged for presents which were in fact only 'wages' paid for services, he immediately terminated a connection which had never, from the first, given him any satisfaction. It may be added that in the society of that period, the particular misdemeanor of which he was guilty, was not uncommon, nor was it generally regarded as exceptionally odious and shocking. And it is but fair that Tom's conduct should be judged by the easier standards of his own century rather than by the stricter code, of later times.

      On this episode, Scott makes a singularly inept comment. He writes:

      The character of Jones, otherwise a model of generosity, openness manly spirit mingled with thoughtless dissipation, is . . . unnecessarily degraded by the nature of his intercourse with Lady Bellaston and this is one of the circumstances which incline us to believe that Fielding's ideas of what was gentleman-like and honorable had sustained some depreciation.

      But in the first place, there is no ground for stating that Tom's degradation was unnecessary. The novelist's problem was to inspire a wild young man, only too prone to yield to temptation, particularly when it came to him in a woman's shape, with so profound a distaste for illicit amours, that the reality and permanence of his reformation could be depended on. It may be that nothing less than a very shameful and painful experience, such as that to which Tom was subjected as the paid lover of Lady Bellaston, could have had power to affect the salutary conversion desired. In the second place, there is no ground, whatever, for the suggestion that Fielding himself failed to appreciate the wrongness of his hero's conduct. He indeed put forward such excuses as could fairly be offered for Tom's deviations from the moral path. But he did not condone those deviations, or minimize their heinousness, or let them pass without adequate punishment. On the contrary, we find that for every delinquency of which Tom was guilty, he was, in some way, made to suffer. 'Why do I blame fortune?' cried the young man himself, 'I am myself the cause of my misery. All the dreadful mischiefs which have befallen me are the consequences only of my own folly and vice.' So, far from palliating misconduct, the author of Tom Jones laid himself out to enforce the moral that every transgression, no matter how strong the temptation to it may have been, is infallibly and terribly visited on the transgressor.

      Tom Jones follows Adams as Fielding's second major attempt to portray a 'good-natured man'. Sophia saw it with her instinctive judgment. Their estrangement is caused by their separation; one feels, in those middle books, that if she had only met Jones, things would have quickly sorted themselves out. We know, when Jones gently turns down Mrs. Hunt in Book XV, Chapter 11, that he has learned his lesson. Allworthy's final, astonishing cry had been anticipated by Mrs. Miller "He is the best natured creature that ever was born."

      Conclusion. Born of Miss Bridget and one Mr. Summer, Tom came to be considered as a foundling. Allworthy treated him, however, with all consideration and he was, himself, sincerely and unmistakably devoted to Allworthy. From his earliest years, Tom discovered a propensity to such petty mischiefs as robbing an orchard, stealing a duck, or picking his playmate's pocket of a ball. As he advanced in life, he displayed a certain weakness of the flesh to which imprudent young men too easily fall victims, especially if they live under conditions where the temptations are great. Some critics have dilated upon his fondness for drink and play, but it is material to note that, of his gambling, there is absolutely no trace in the novel, (probably the critics mix him up with Captain Booth of Amelia), and that there is only one occasion, when he took too much wine, and that was when he was in raptures at his benefactor's recovery. With all that, he does appear to have fallen very low in the sensual mire, and, had it not been for his exceptional goodness of heart, and for the circumstances which led him into temptation, we could not have sympathized with him as we most certainly do. He is brave, generous, chivalrous, kind to the poor and courteous to women. There was not a tinge of hypocrisy or affectation in him, and he was as far from prudence as the North pole is from the South. If we remember that he considered himself a foundling, entirely depending upon Allworthy's charity, and, as such, hardly expecting to be allowed to marry his charming Sophia, that, in his smaller slips before he was turned out by Allworthy, he was still extremely generous and self-sacrificing, and that, after he was banished from home, his case was desperate enough, we cannot but have the utmost sympathy for him. Those who look upon human nature as keenly and unflinchingly as Fielding did, knowing how weak and fallible it is—how prone to fall away by accident or passion—can scarcely deny the truth of Tom Jones.

      It is reasonable to believe that Tom Jones is an idealized portrait of Fielding himself—especially as he was in his youth.

      The chief character and hero of the novel is, of course, Tom Jones, the foundling. He is manly, and is a good sportsman. He endears himself, in the beginning, to Squire Western for his sports-man like qualities. Squire Western loved the young boy so much that "he often wished he had himself a son with such parts" (Book III, chapter 10). Tom's chief heroic quality is his brave, good heart, and his warmth of sentiment. He has an excess of animal spirits, but he is never rough in his manners.

     There is a certain air of natural gentility, which it is neither in the power of dress to give nor to conceal. Mr. Jones.....was possessed of this in a very eminent degree. (Book XIII, Chapter 2)

      Tom Jones is unorthodox in his moral habits, and gets involved in all kinds of amorous affairs with women; but he is never mean-spirited or hypocritical. He has the moral courage to own up a lapse, though he has not discretion enough to keep steady. Tom's selflessness, his eagerness to relieve others' suffering, his good humor and gaiety, make him the hero that he is. We are told of his 'extraordinary comeliness' of form. He was not only one of the most handsome young fellows in the world. His face.....had the most apparent marks of sweetness and good nature. These qualities were indeed so characteristic in his countenance, that, while the spirit and sensibility in his eyes, though they must have been perceived by an accurate observer, might have escaped the notice of the less discerning, so strongly was this good nature painted in his look, that it was remarked by almost every one who saw him. (Book IX, Chapter 5)

      Tom's personality, his qualities of the heart and spirit, rightly recommended themselves to the wise Allworthy, who treated him as his own son. He only wished-so do we-Tom had a little discretion or prudence, as a guard to his many virtues.

      Tom Jones shines in contrast with young Blifil, Squire Allworthy's nephew and Tom's rival. Blifil is cold-hearted and mean. His heart was never touched with mercy, or with the gentle passion. He is scheming, selfish, and hypocritical. He is avaricious and ambitious. He is Tom's enemy. Blifil seeks Sophia for fortune, and is rightly deprived of both.

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