Discuss the use of satire in Henry Fielding's novel Tom Jones.

Fielding uses satire in Tom Jones to avoid preaching about people's flaws and immorality. He uses satire to keep the reader entertained and to make his message more relatable. Tom has both good and evil traits and frequently yields to temptation. Fielding ironically says "bad as he is, [Tom] must serve for the hero of this history." Yet Tom remains a likable character because of Fielding's use of satire rather than outright lecture.

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Satire uses humor to poke fun at human and societal weaknesses. It can be very dark, as in Swift's "A Modest Proposal," but also light-hearted. Fielding chooses the light-hearted path in this novel.

For example, though title character Tom Jones has both good and bad traits, we like him because...

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Satire uses humor to poke fun at human and societal weaknesses. It can be very dark, as in Swift's "A Modest Proposal," but also light-hearted. Fielding chooses the light-hearted path in this novel.

For example, though title character Tom Jones has both good and bad traits, we like him because the traits in him that are satirized have a forgivable quality.

For instance, Tom is the ultimate party animal: he loves drinking, good times, and women. He is outgoing, sometimes a bit arrogant, and yet always open-hearted. In fact, he gets himself into trouble because he is so uncalculating in his self-presentation, not realizing how his behavior can and will be twisted by unscrupulous people.

For example, we can't help but sympathize with Tom when, though he does overindulge in drink and partying, he does it to celebrate Squire Allworthy winning out against death—and we feel more on Tom's side when Blifil unfairly twists this goodwill to Squire Allworthy so that the squire kicks Tom out of the house.

In the same vein, we can condemn Tom for his womanizing—and he does make his mistakes—but he does also truly love Sophia. He is uncalculating in his affection for her, and when he does try to "calculate" to win her, he does so in ways that underscore how completely hopeless this good-natured man is at scheming.

We also tend to like Tom because his flaws are so much more preferable to Blifel's flaws of hypocrisy, back-stabbing, and calculation. In putting these two characters side by side, Fielding encourages us to interrogate a society that heaps moral condemnation on what might be the least contemptible of vices while overlooking true moral vileness. As Fielding's narrator comments, it is wrong to "condemn a character as a bad one, because it is not a perfectly good one."

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At the very beginning of the novel, Fielding states that he will use satire in Tom Jones:

"As we do not disdain to borrow wit or wisdom from any man who is capable of lending us either, we ... shall ... give the reader particular bills to every course which is to be served up in this and the ensuing volumes."

In the book, Fielding uses satire to underscore his message about society’s lack of morals and flaws in a way that avoids outright preaching. Just as Shakespeare interspersed comedy in his tragedies, Fielding uses satire to keep the reader entertained and to make his message more relatable.

When Mr. Allworthy lectures Jenny Jones, his sister and housekeeper eavesdrop. Fielding writes that “through the conveyance of a keyhole, they sucked in at their ears the instructive lecture delivered by Mr. Allworthy.” Tongue-in-cheek, Fielding characterizes their eavesdropping as listening to an “instructive lecture” when it is no more than gossips seeking to know what transpires behind closed doors. Fielding further characterizes this as Bridget not wanting to impose on her brother by making him relate the conversation again. How thoughtful she is, Fielding implies ironically, meaning that she is not thinking of her brother at all:

"For by such means Mrs. Bridget became often acquainted with her brother's inclinations, without giving him the trouble of repeating them to her.”

In commenting on Mr. Allworthy’s kindness in taking Tom in, Fielding writes that

“it is a secret well known to great men, that, by conferring an obligation, they do not always procure a friend, but are certain of creating many enemies.”

This is Fielding’s way of telling the reader via satire that rather than being grateful when someone does us a favor, it is human nature to resent the debt or obligation it creates.

Tom's character is a mix of both good and evil, and he frequently gives in to temptation. Fielding ironically describes him as "Tom Jones, who, bad as he is, must serve for the hero of this history." Yet he remains a likable character because of Fielding's use of satire rather than outright lecture.

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Writers of satire often use humor to expose or illuminate human errors and to teach readers about the consequences of these errors. With that definition in mind, Tom Jones meets the criteria of a satire. One example of satire can be found in Fielding's treatment of different kinds of professionals. For example, the academic character of Partridge attempts to communicate in his faux scholarly language, using wrong Latin phrases and confusing his audience, which is the opposite of what we might expect a decent educator to do. He is the head of a school, but he is not very intelligent, which may be an interesting comment on the field of education in general. By creating a character like Partridge, Fielding may be shining a light on the state of education at the time at which he wrote the novel, encouraging readers to think critically about the authority figures placed in charge of the classroom.

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Satire plays a significant role in Tom Jones and is evident from the outset. An amusing example is the satire thrown upon the misbegotten notions of propriety and modesty that besought the society and was nicely manifest in Mrs Deborah, Mr Allworthy's "elderly woman-servant." Being urgently summoned at a late hour of the night to attend Mr Allworthy in his bedchamber, and not having a clear reason--whether an attack of "apoplexy" or an attack of some other sort--Mrs Deborah lingered before complying to give Mr Allworthy plenty of time to dress himself (ironic if it had been an attack of apoplexy) and shield her delicate sensibilities, though at the age of fifty-two, as Fielding points out.

She had indeed given her master sufficient time to dress himself; for out of respect to him, and regard to decency, she had spent many minutes in adjusting her hair at the looking-glass, notwithstanding all the hurry in which she had been summoned by the servant, and though her master, for aught she knew, lay expiring in an apoplexy, or in some other fit.

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