Tobias Smollett not only is a great comic novelist but also a morally exhilarating one—a serious satirist of the brutality, squalor, and hideous corruption of humankind. His definite moral purposes are firmly grounded in the archetypal topic of all novelists—people’s unceasing battle for survival in the war between the forces of good and evil. Smollett insists that people defy “the selfishness, envy, malice, and base indifference of mankind”; in such a struggle, the hero will ultimately prevail and will be rewarded for his (or her) fortitude.
The principal theme of Smollett’s first novel, Roderick Random, is the arbitrariness of success and failure in a world dominated by injustice and dishonesty. Smollett’s decision to use realistic detail as a guise for his satire produces a lively and inventive work; moreover, the hero, Roderick, is not a mere picaro nor a passive fool but an intent satiric observer “who recognizes, reacts, and rebukes.” The novel is organized in a three-part structure. The initial stage reveals Roderick’s numerous trials as a young man; he loses his innocence during the years of poverty in Scotland, of failure in London, and of brutal experience in the Navy. The middle of thenarrative embodies “the lessons of adversity” as the hero declines into near collapse. In a final brief section, Roderick recovers his physical and moral equilibrium and promotes the simple human...
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