Essay

Central Themes of Tom Jones

One of the central themes in Tom Jones deals with the conflict between parental authority and individual choice in matters of love and marriage. As a related topic, I’m looking to explore the ways in which Fielding portrays the relationship and dialectic between love and free will.I intendto show that when ideas of love are conveyed or emotionally expressed by certain characters in the novel toward others, they are accompanied by, and frequently interconnected with, the question of autonomy and self-determination. Furthermore, Fielding’s treatment of the ideas of love and personal freedom, through the behavior and language of the characters in the novel,underpins another of the central themes: that marital felicity is as dependent on mutual affection and harmony as it is on familial and monetary considerations. There is also a suggestion in the novel that “true love” is somewhat disconnected from free will. I’ll show how I’m trying to work out this idea in one of the paragraphs from my paper below.

Throughout the novel there are instances in which Sophia is treated as a sounding board for expressions and ideas of love. She is the perpetually the object of romantic, sexual, and/or paternal love. I intend to support the above thesis partly by exploring these instances. For example, the narrator of Tom Jones, with characteristic magisterial authority, states that Squire Western loves his daughter. However, a good portion of the story primarily involves him in a quest to exert his unmitigated power over her. By examining this situation one may see how parental love is conditional on, or at least intertwined with, the submission of Sophia to the will of her father. It may be even be inferred that love as such is a bane to personal choice and freedom.

Fielding uses various literary techniques to suggest that freedom to choose is a key ingredient in matters of love, while the importance of how such freedom is used is another of the novel’s central themes. The following paragraphs from my paper should illustrate some of these techniques:

In Chapter VI of Book V, we find Tom Jones playing the quintessential tortured young lover. Meeting Sophia unexpectedly in this distressed state he gives certain non-verbal, unwitting, and yet effective expressions of love. They are effective because they raise him in her esteem (154), and they are unwitting as they expose the one thing he strives to conceal. Fielding describes how “his Backwardness, his Shunning her, his Coldness and his Silence, were the forwardest, the most diligent, the warmest, and most eloquent Advocates”(155). Then, with the same insightful irony, he explains the profound and elevating effect these displays have on Sophia’s regard for Tom. Significantly, neither character chooses to attest to the budding romantic feelings which both experience. Instead their feelings manifestly reveal themselves. In this way, Fielding depicts the novel’s central love affair as a “natural” event. At a certain point, the amorous sentiments they share are absolutely beyond their control, though they each make various attempts to deny or temper them.

This raises a question about what sort of freedom each character possesses. In following the implications of the interpretation above it would seem that neither has the freedom to decide what to feel toward one another, yet they may have the capacity to choose on how to act on those feelings. This.