The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling Essay Questions

  1. 1

    "Tom Jones is the story of a man's journey from innocence, through experience, to wisdom." Which events from the text best illustrate this idea?

    This question would be best answered chronologically. His childhood experiences with the Seagrim family show a blessed innocence - he is unaware of how his kindness appears to others (and hence gets in trouble for it). His time after being banished from Allworthy is a long process of experience that leads to his imprisonment. Throughout this time, his feelings for Sophia change from affection, to love, to devotion. He finally learns that he must take responsibility for his own actions, and indeed his kindnesses early in the novel help to save him. This is his final wisdom.

  2. 2

    Tom Jones can be considered a character too passionate to be a true gentleman. Choose specific evidence from the text to support or refute this claim.

    The response needs to give a clear personal opinion and include a detailed explanation of how a gentleman was perceived at the time. Tom's treatment of women, his kindness to those in need, and his willingness to forgive all make him a virtuous person. However, he is persistently uncouth and not equipped for high society, which could ultimately serve as an attack on 'gentlemen' rather than as an attack on Tom. One could also explore his relationships with major characters such as Allworthy, Squire Western, Blifil and Sophia.

  3. 3

    What symbol could be said to represent the relationship between Tom Jones and Sophia Western? Explain the aspects of their relationship your choice exemplifies.

    A degree of personal choice and imagination should be employed. Obvious ideas could be the bird given to Sophia by Tom, her muff and/or her lost pocketbook. Money may also be referred to, though one would want to note that the value of the money never matters with them - all that matters is the loyalty and devotion that the money represents.

  4. 4

    What attitudes towards marriage does Fielding illustrate in the novel?

    Reference to opinions stated by the narrator, Mrs Western, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Molly Seagrim and Mrs Miller would be useful to consider. Contrary opinions - like those of observations of Master Blifil, Captain Blifil, Squire Western Allworthy and Nightingale - would supplement. Ultimately, Fielding seems to suggest we should marry for happiness. Most of the characters who describe marriage as a financial arrangement are voicing the views of their high society - but these opinions constantly cause unhappiness and disaster in the work.

  5. 5

    With close reference to Book 12, what do the incidents and discussions at the gypsy camp reflect about the political arguments of the time?

    An understanding of Fielding's political leanings and the context of the Jacobite rebellion would be useful to clarify the principles of absolute monarchy and the implications of this as expressed by the King of the Gypsies. Fielding argues in this section for an absolute monarchy, but acknowledges that a degree of personal responsibility is necessary for a strong king. He sees equality under the king as valuable, since it limits the amount of transgressions that could lead to rebellion.

  6. 6

    The chapters involving The Man of the Hill have been both dismissed as irrelevant digressions and celebrated as important moral explorations. What is your view of the purpose of Book 8, chapters 10-15? Illustrate with evidence from these chapters and the text as a whole.

    The Man of the Hill chapters allow Tom Jones to reflect on events and situations which Tom could not realistically experience first hand within the course of the novel. His inclusion can be criticized in that he does not actively move the narrative forward, and his story is not so tightly woven with Tom's specific challenges. However, he does help Fielding to widen his net and cover more "human nature," and as such compliments the themes of Tom's narrative well.

  7. 7

    The narrator praises English pantomime as "exquisite entertainment" in terms of the contrasts it offers. Support this view with reference to characterization and/or setting.

    Clear contrasts can be seen between the different moral outlooks of pairs like: Lady Bellaston and Sophia; Tom and Blifil; and even Allworthy and Squire Western. More subtle comparisons could be made between: Partridge and Tom; Molly Seagrim and Lady Bellaston; or Sophia and Honour. The contrast of setting could broadly refer to country and city, or a more focused analysis of the gypsy camp, playhouse or inn. Ultimately, what Fielding enjoys about contrast is it helps to illustrate the complications within all humans - we are none of us purely vicious or virtuous, but rather express contradictory impulses.

  8. 8

    Explore the importance of one of the following characters in the development of Tom Jones - Black George, Mrs. Miller, Partridge or Nightingale. Consider the lessons Tom learns through his interaction with the character.

    Each exploration needs to be clear about the character's purpose and his or her contribution to the growth of Tom Jones. Black George highlights Tom's innate generosity, while his interactions with Mrs. Miller show his desire for happiness in others. Partridge is a foil to present Tom's emerging level-headedness and Nightingale shows the importance of friendship. Through all of these characters does Tom come closer to his ultimate wisdom.

  9. 9

    "For tho' every good author will confine himself within the bounds of probability, it is by no means necessary that his characters, or his incidents, should be trite, common or vulgar." Does Fielding's work support or refute this statement? Use at least three specific incidents.

    Fielding does explore some 'lower' subjects in his work: incest, arrests, premarital sex, vicious flirtations, and more. This supports his intention to write about reality and "human nature." So in some ways, one could argue Fielding does go to vulgar places. On the other hand, he handles most of these with a comic and deft brush, so that they are not described in detail or focused on for too long. He shows an instinct for taste even in delving into the darker capacities of humanity.

  10. 10

    In Book 14, the narrator states: "In my humble opinion, the true characteristic of the present Beau Monde, is rather folly than vice, and the only epithet which it deserves is that of frivolous." How far does the novel reflect this observation?

    Definitions of folly and vice should be established early in the response. Vice implies a darker, more malicious edge to proceedings, and could be highlighted in characters such as Lady Bellaston and Blifil. However, as the novel has a predominantly comic tone, there is more emphasis on folly as the explanation for the actions and events of the main characters in particular. Most characters sin from their own foolishness or from the foolishness taught them by a silly society. Consider how Mrs. Waters espouses a conditioned philosophy of marriage that is ridiculous next to her statements on female independence. We are all capable of terrible cruelties, but perhaps that is more because we are stupid than because we are evil.