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How does Fielding's social consciousness affect his point of view in Tom Jones?

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indurajoura | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 22, 2011 at 7:07 PM via web

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How does Fielding's social consciousness affect his point of view in Tom Jones?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 16, 2011 at 6:59 PM (Answer #1)

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The Enlightenment's fundamental precepts about how human beings are good and how individuals are essentially created by their own experiences form the basis for Fielding's work.  As a character, Tom is not driven by the church or some higher notion of authority.  Instead, it is evident that the individual's sense of identity is forged by his experiences and the embrace of positive, socially affirming values over negative, personally destructive behaviors of consciousness.  In this, the idea of how individuals can be redeemed and not unfairly condemned is a part of the social consciousness of the work.  Again echoing the Enlightenment tendencies, Fielding's work brings to light how individuals can essentially be good and reasonable.  A type of human trial and error, where Tom makes good choices from his experience of making bad ones, helps to bring to light that society can embrace reason-ability within individuals and can consist of individuals who can make themselves and, by extension, their world better.  The fact that Tom becomes able to fully partaken in being Allworthy's heir reflects a breakdown of the social stratification of the time period.  This is evidence of ths Enlightenment idea of how individuals can be seen on their own merit and how both Fielding's work and the movement of which it is a part of embraces a positive notion of human nature, seeking to radiate this to all society.

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prishi12 | High School Teacher | Salutatorian

Posted February 22, 2012 at 6:14 PM (Answer #1)

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Tom Jones is a neatly constructed plot & reflects a basic 18th century faith in the order of the world. The novel is fundamentally a reflection of the social structure that prevailed in England in the middle of the 18th century. Fielding described Tom Jones as an ‘epic-genre and emphasized its function in presenting a broad picture of an era, in which primarily the weaknesses of humanity are put on display’.

Tom Jones is a series of gradual unfolding of complexities. The characters, their relationships, events acquaint the readers with the social conditions prevailing in English society during that time. The affection between tom and Sophia reflects romance. Tom’s status as a bastard – a child being born out of wedlock and Allworthy’s opposition to their love reflects the gradual loss of morality in the social structure and class- friction. The inclusion of prostitution and sexual promiscuity in the plot portrayed the newly acquired freedom that people in the society witnessed. Fielding sharply focuses upon a peculiar energy generated in human behavior because of economic independence. The narrow orthodox formations (the moral-religious system, patriarchy); challenge to the interest of property and privilege; living on individual terms; marrying on owns will and choice are finely carved out elements.

Fielding included many new aspects of society in his writing of characters. A new angle of father-daughter relationship was shown. Marriage and female sexuality was highlighted through various characters (Molly Seagram and hypocrite Lady Bellaston) as marriage in the eighteenth century England was used extensively to subjugate women in the framework that took its command from economic interest. Women evolved their own specific ways and strategies to counter the male onslaught through marriage.

Fielding gives a picture if social contradiction – the antagonism between the merchant capital and landed gentry. On the other hand, the rising middle-class asserts itself vigorously. This powerful social section intervenes in the society with an unprecedented gusto which has behind it the serious involvement, ruthlessness as well as immorality of a merchant-capital.

Fielding attempts to portray various shades of human nature in his novel. Tom Jones captures the unfolding historical contradiction of England in the 18th century. This means that it is not a text per se, but a literary happening that takes us closer to the reality in England at that time.

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