The narrator explains to the reader in the opening chapter that human nature is “the main provision on offer” (51). He does not intend to make any judgments on human nature, but instead wants to present it as a dish would be offered on a menu. Much of the criticism of Tom Jones was in response to the licentious behavior of characters such as Molly Seagrim, Mrs. Waters and Lady Bellaston, not to mention Tom Jones himself. However, Fielding did not want to create a necessarily moral text that ignored the truth of how people are. He believed human nature has capacity for good and evil, and wanted to explore those contradictions. Further, it is important to note that Fielding was not advocating or defending any of the immoral behaviors of his characters, but merely presenting their actions as steps on the road to greater wisdom. Indeed, each of the major characters already mentioned undergoes a learning process, and redemption is offered to anyone who seeks it. Molly Seagrim is a passionate and lusty young woman. She bewitches Tom into his first sexual experiences and attempts to ensnare him as protector by having his child. Tom laughs when he discovers she is having an affair with Square, and when he learns he is not the father of her child. Molly finally settles with Partridge at the end of the novel, and so ends up with someone to love and support her. Mrs Waters, or Jenny Jones, is accused of being Tom’s mother, after which time she leaves the area and ultimately ends up living unmarried with Captain Waters. She not only carries on a further affair with Northerton, but also quickly strikes up a dalliance with Tom. However, she does have a capacity for honesty and gratitude, and so we are to be happy when she finally settles into a legal marriage with Parson Supple. Lady Bellaston, the demirep, preys on younger men and has an unsavory reputation about town. Nightingale is quickly able to ascertain that she does not want to be saved from this life of vice, so recommends that Tom proposes to her to break her ties to him. Shocked at his proposal and unwilling to make the compromises that marriage would require, Lady Bellaston dismisses Tom as a villain. She receives no reward in the narrative. Tom makes numerous impetuous decisions and moral errors in the course of the story, but he also exhibits many positive qualities which balance out his vices. Fielding’s purpose in the development of his characters, Tom in particular, is illustrated by a comment from the dedication: “I believe, it is much easier to make good men wise, than to make bad men good” (37). In other words, through Tom he expresses his belief that even good men falter, but from folly, not necessarily from evil. Hypocrisy
Of all of the weaknesses of mankind, Fielding viewed hypocrisy as the most pernicious and damaging. When referring to Master Blifil in book 3, the narrator makes a thoughtful observation on the menace of his duplicitous ways: “A treacherous friend is the most dangerous enemy…both religion and virtue have received more real discredit from hypocrites, than the wittiest profligates or infidels could ever cast upon them” (130). The novel seeks to highlight hypocrisy across the social spectrum through the lens of humor. Goody Seagrim condemns Molly for falling pregnant, yet it is revealed that she gave birth within a week of her own marriage. Further, we discover later that she “shared in the profits of iniquity with her daughter” after Molly’s relationship with Mr. Square is exposed (217). The hypocrisy of the lower class is further illustrated when fair Molly is viciously attacked in the church yard after attending church in a fine dress. They are driven by envy, but disguise it in moral tones to justify their ire. Fielding also explores the double standards of the medical profession. Doctors frequently misdiagnose conditions as fatal – it happens to Tom, Allworthy and Mr. Fitzpatrick – in order to increase their earnings. The most...
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