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The Complexities of Morality and Perception in Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

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The Complexities of Morality and Perception in Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

When Henry Fielding's Tom Jones was published, it was considered by many critics to be an entirely immoral, and thus, quite offensive piece of writing. Even the back cover of our Oxford World's Classics edition makes reference to the work as "A motley history of bastardism, fornication and adultery." Inside this same edition, John Bender's introduction describes the negative response to the work by Fielding's own peers and predecessors in Samuel Johnson and Samuel Richardson (xvii-xx). While the public was somewhat more enticed by the story's seedy details and wild characters, the book was generally considered with at least a little skepticism regarding the seeming lack of a moral center. This opinion, however, seems to be slightly off the mark. Perhaps more severely villainized for its form (the then new and lowly novel) in conjunction with its content, Tom Jones, is upon close inspection, a tale that does in fact include a certain kind of moralism. In Book III, Chapter VII, Fielding includes a kind of direct statement about the complexities of virtue and goodness. His ideas on the subject are quite realistically multi faceted, and presented as such, with his method of delivery supporting his opinion.
Chapter VII of Book III begins with a description of the way in which Mr. Allworthy views both Tom and Master Blifil. It is mentioned that Mrs. Blifil's adoration for Tom had had the effect of souring Mr. Allworthy's opinion of the boy. Further, Mrs. Blifil's less pleasant impression of her own son had created the opposite effect, endearing Master Blifil to Mr. Allworthy in a way completely out of sync with any objective sizing up of cha...

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..., originally criticized for lacking a sense of morals, contains what seems like an entirely realistic treatment of human nature. Fielding recognizes the complexity of goodness, and its relationship to the perception of others. The characters in his novel find themselves in any number of situations which support this idea. And, as we have seen in chapter VII of Book III, Fielding goes as far as to outright state his impression of morality. It is almost ironic, really, that a work which points to the complications involved with goodness and perception of goodness should be so thoroughly criticized for vulgarity and immorality. Tom Jones is quite like Tom Jones in that sense, for its outward appearance belies its more soundly moral interior


Works Cited

Fielding, Henry, Tom Jones (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996).

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