Describe Fielding's narrative style in Tom Jones
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The narrator in Tom Jones describes the novel as "prosai-comi-epic". This definition characterizes the novel as an comic epic written in prose. Tom Jones shares with the epic style the (anti-)heroic nature of its hero and the great scope of his actions as far as time and places are concerned. At the same time, it has a less unified plot than an epic, a characteristic that brings it closer to the Spanish genre of the picaresque novel, as does the statue of the protagonist as an orphan. In addition, Fielding's digressions with their hyperbolic and ironic nature are often interpreted as parodies of the heroic style of epic poems. Part of the novel is also written in the epistolary style that Fielding used for Shamela, his satire against the founding text of the genre, Richardson's Pamela. Some critics also see Tom's lenghty and tortuous pursuit for Sophia, whose name is the Greek for "wisdom", as an allegory for the human pursuit of wisdom and balanced judgment.
NARRATION IN HENRY FIELDING’S TOM JONES
There is no doubt to the fact that the excellence of Henry Fielding’s novels lies in his unique and unconventional narrative style. Fielding was closely associated to theatre. Great narrative scenes in his literary masterpiece Tom Jones perfectly depict Fielding’s directional expertise.
In his novel Tom Jones, as we know, there are two voices that render opinions of the author – an omnipresent narrator and occasionally, Mr Squire Allworthy. It is however, the all-knowing, omnipresent narrator that we are more concerned with while dealing with narrative techniques.
It is hard denying that the narration is the most important part of the novel. Every book starts with a formal introduction from the narrator (which many critics thought added unnecessary volume to the novel). The narrator enters a scene and then seldom leaves. The narration seems to be intended to ensure an open-communication with the readers.
Considering this, we can say Tom Jones features a third-person narration, which means that the story and action of the novel are voiced by a narrator who is not a character in the novel, and has an over-arching point of view. He sees and knows everything (including the character’s thought process). This God-like narrator makes Fielding tell his audience things that otherwise no one can put forth.
Narrator is an extremely witty, intelligent, interesting and educated citizen of the society. He constantly amuses and allures the audience. The narrator shows a conscious, father-like attitude towards the characters, readers and even the society. Also, the narrator, at certain stances, becomes a teacher, a philosopher, a guide and even a pal. Enlightening the audience is an important aspect of narration. For this, the narration makes use of satire and irony. Moreover, immediately, one can sense that the narrator’s voice is masculine.
Fielding’s narration enjoys ashamed freedom and subjectivity, which helps him, set a rapport with his audience. His narration style can be referred to as Partisanship as the narrator butts in just anywhere to tell what is right and what is wrong. He neglects the possibility of difference in opinion and views of others for a particular situation. In this way, the narration also helps bring some comic elements in the novel also.
It is worth mentioning here that despite a wide appreciation and success of novel’s literary devices, the libertinism applied to the narrative techniques of Tom Jones by Fielding got mixed reviews. The novel’s unconventionality faced severe criticism and disapproval from Samuel Johnson.
The basic style and genre of Tom Jones are what are referred to by literary critics as `picaresque'. This genre originated in early modern Spain, and is distinguished by the character of the protagonist, a likable rogue or scamp, known in Spanish as a 'picaro'. The story simply follows the adventures of the protagonist in an episodic fashion – one adventure after another. A distinguishing feature of the style is the way narration is handled, with an intrusive narrator who frequently makes self-reflexive comments on the progress of the story and the characters therein.
When Adams is attacked by a squire’s hounds, Fielding begins to describe how Joseph jumps to the parson’s defense. But the author pauses for a moment: “Reader, we would make a Simile on this Occasion, but for two Reasons: The first is, it would interrupt the Description, which should be rapid in this part. . . . The second, and much greater Reason is, that we could find no Simile adequate to our Purpose.”
Rhetorical Flourishes and Asides
Fielding’s purpose is not only -- not even primarily -- to describe Joseph and how he beats back the hounds with his cudgel. Rather, the author uses a discussion of the inadequacies of language to indirectly emphasize the “Friendship, Courage, Youth, Beauty, Strength, and Swiftness . . . which blazed in the Person of Joseph Andrews” (208), inserting a rhetorical flourish where figurative language would normally seem most appropriate.In this way, Fielding shifts the narrative emphasis from what is happening in the story to how hard it is to describe someone as excellent as Joseph, diverting our attention from content to style. Later in the text, Adams, Fanny, and Joseph obligated to have dinner with the squire who owned the hounds.
Fielding's Brand of Realism
When one of the squire’s butlers spikes Adams’ ale, Fielding notes: “had it not been for the Information which we received from a Servant of the Family, this Part of our History . . . must have been deplorably imperfect; tho’ we must own it probable, that some more Jokes were (as they call it) cracked during their Dinner; but we have by no means been able to come at the Knowledge of them" (213).
At first, this aside seems akin to the sort of realism-strengthening moves Defoe makes in Robinson Crusoe, in which ship’s papers, star charts, and other “reliable” sources are used to maintain a sense that it is a documentary novel. Similarly, Fielding claims that this part of Joseph Andrews was almost lost to spiked ale and time, suggesting (as he does intermittently throughout the text) that the novel was constructed largely from eye-witness accounts.
These two brief instances reflect the sort of emphasis Watt talks about, the sense that Fielding is as concerned with how his story is presented as he is with the content of the story, its events and characters. While Fielding’s work does not show a complete departure from the “new” realism of authors like Defoe and Richardson, his infatuation with style and rhetoric produces fiction that is as much about the author as the story.
Fielding set out to create a work that was not a ‘romance’ and had more in common with a ‘history’. In the process he produced a text which encompasses several forms and which becomes unique in its approach.
“Tom Jones” can be said to be an epic novel, in that there is a clear central protagonist who is faced with numerous physical and emotional challenges to reach his goal. Also, as Tom is a lovable rogue whose adventures include description of his various travels and the places he visits, the text meets the criteria for a picaresque novel.
There are some links to the epistolary, or letter, form, but the text is more readily an allegory, with characters such as Allworthy and the simply-named Tom representing the path of the Everyman to knowledge and enlightenment.
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