The Character of Tom Jones
Tom Jones is the hero of Henry Fielding’s best novel, Tom Jones. Tom’s character has given rise to sharp criticism from many eminent critics including Dr. Johnson. A victim of circumstances from the birth to the end, Tom is undoubtedly a charming character. A novel, being a picture of life through a story cannot and should not detract from real-life. It should be true to life. So, the hero of a novel is a human being who cannot be absolutely good or possess a stainless character.
Fielding’s desire is to depict things as he sees them, and his vision is not that of Richardson. The lights and shades over the prospect of the moral world are not distributed in the same way for him. His personal experience is somewhat mixed. Some people are born good, some people are born bad, but in most cases, each has a mixture of good and evil. It is not difficult to separate the examples to the followed from those which must be rejected.
The realistic novel, Tom Jones is a history of a life and the author shows us that the novel enjoys the privilege of choosing between facts and of eliminating what is useless. Tom Jones is an active treatise on the diverse quality of souls and their different reactions to experience. He has a spontaneous generosity of heart, a simple frankness and the sincere sense of goodness. These qualities are the precious gems of all real virtues.
Fielding has a genuine aversion for hypocrisy and he praises frankness. He calls hypocrisy a monster, a detestable vice, the bane of all virtue, morality, and goodness. Id, inward impulse as a novelist came from the urge to expose and ridicule what he regarded as the hypocrisy of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. Tom is virtually free from hypocrisy, he wears no mask, what the man of Hill has remarked about his appearance is quite true of his character. He is justified when he says, ‘I have read that a good countenance is a letter of recommendation if so, none ever can be more strongly recommended than yourself.’ Tom and his beloved Sophia are the exceptions to all other characters of the novel- the whole Blifil Clan, Bridget, Allworthy, Thwackum and Square, the landlords and the landladies, the Seagrim family. They are more or less hypocrite in their actions.
Like a genuine human being, Tom has the generosity of heart and the courage to accept the responsibility for his actions. Tom does not try to avoid the consequence of what he has done. Black George has, in fact, shot the partridge in Squire Western’s property but as Tom has initiated the action, he comes forward to take the responsibility of the shooting and persists in asserting that he was alone for he knows that the gamekeeper will lose his job if he is convicted of poaching. As a result, he gets a thrashing but Mr. Allworthy gives him a little horse to make up for the pain of whipping. This causes acute embarrassment to Tom for he could more easily bear the lashes of Thwackum than the generosity of Allworthy. Blifil betrayals ultimately expose the truth and Black George loses his job as a result. But Tom stands by the side of the starving family of the gamekeeper. He sells the horse and the Bible to keep the family.
Tom’s actions are always inspired by spontaneous generosity. He shows mercy instead of justice toward the ‘highwayman’ who tries to rob him. When he finds that the main story of a starving wife and children is true, he immediately gives him all the money he has. He even urges Mrs. Millers to take the entire amount of fifty pounds which has been given to him by Mrs. Bellaston for Mr. Anderson’s family. He does not know that the unfortunate Anderson is Mrs. Miller’s cousin. When they meet in the house of Mrs. Miller, Anderson recognizes Tom as the man whom he had tried to rob. But Tom does not put him to shame and keeps silent about the incident and puts aside Anderson’s protestation of gratitude for the fresh gift.
Tom is not, as has been said already, a hero of stainless character that we often come across in fiction. In fiction, the hero is portrayed as a superhuman or an ideal man free from all the defects that a moral human being is subject to.In fiction everything is possible but in reality, things are quite different from what we find there. Fielding does not want to present us an abnormal or superman in this novel. His hero is a man of flesh and blood. He lives in a world of facts and gets acquainted with men and women who are also human beings. His art of characterization rests on intellect as well as realism. It is because of this attitude his novel has rightly been called modern in its theme and presentation far from being a fiction of the unknown and unreal world.
Tom Jones has been unfavorably criticized for its ‘loose morals’ by Dr. Johnson. He once told someone that he scarcely knew a more corrupt work than Tom Jones. We must agree that there are many moral offenses in Tom Jones which the author treats more tolerantly than any Puritan moralist world has done. It is the sexual issue, however, which is crucial both in the moral scheme of Tom Jones and over the objections of its critics. But Fielding does not depict a faultless or sinless fictional hero as Richardson has done. He depicts Tom as a hero possessed of a virtuous heart, but also as possessed of the lustiness and lack of deliberation. Yet he is a true hero because he has no scheme to corrupt or entice any woman. What has happened in course of his life is inevitable and he cannot avoid it. A woman always takes the initiative with Tom and Tom never violates innocence in the unmarried or virtue in the married. He frankly confesses;“I have been guilty with women, I own it, but I am not conscious that I have ever injured any. Nor would I, to procure pleasure to myself; be knowingly the cause of misery to any human being.”Tom Jones is the hero of a novel that pictures a living society, not of a fictional one. So, he satisfies the condition of an ideal hero who is alive to all the demands of human life.