Although Fielding called his novel a ‘comic – epic in prose’, the epithet of ‘picaresque’ would be equally justified. This, of course, does not contradict Fielding’s own claim, for the picaresque is in many ways related to comic epic, the picaresque novel being epical in scope and comic in nature. Generally speaking, the picaresque novel as derived from the Spanish word for ‘rogue’, picaro, is concerned with the life story of a clever and musing adventures who proceeds by tricks and roguery through a series of adventures. The picaresque fiction which had its origin in Greek and Latin word literature as in the case of Odysseus , the hero Homer’s Odyssey who was driven around the known world by the wrath of the god Poseidon just as Tom is driven about England by his fate. Fielding’s great master was the Spanish write Cervantes. Cervantes’ Don Quixote had appeared almost century earlier, and another novel in the same picaresque tradition, The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane by Alain Lesage had appeared about a decade before Fielding’s Tom Jones. A picaresque novel has in addition to a roguish hero, long journeys an episodic structure, and realistic lowlife descriptions.
The fact is Tom himself is a picaresque hero. From the view points of the critics he is the epitome of ‘unheros’. Brought up as a foundling, he indulges in activities which more often than not fall a hair – breadth sort of actual criminality. He is notorious for beating up his mates though this justifiable on the ground of his innate nature. He is one who trespasses into the territory of Square Western in the pursuit of a prey. His adventurous nature also reveals itself in his breaking his arm while trying to prevent Sophia’s accident on a horse. But his voracious sexual appetite would certainly entitle him to the rank of a picaresque hero. Even while being enamored of Sophia, and in spite of her reciprocating his love, Tom is guilty of indulging sexually with the game keeper’s daughter...
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