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 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.
Henry Fielding's classic 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling can best be described as having employed a rather unconventional narrative style, injecting a highly-intrusive, omniscient, third-person narrator who not only relates the story of its protagonist, but comments regularly on the process of writing a story while also offering comments and asides that depart from what readers ordinarily expect from a narrator. Fielding's narrator is apart from the action he describes; he is telling a story about an individual, but with a somewhat detached, ironic tone that provides much of the story's humor. An early indication that the reader is in for a different type of narrative--and, taking into account this novel's legacy as one of the early examples of the English-language novel--is provided in the opening chapter's initial passages:
"An author ought to consider himself not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money."
Fielding's narrator is greeting the reader with the suggestion that he is in this for the money. One should not anticipate a maudlin, sympathetic narrator, but rather an objective, cynical voice with an interest in the proper telling of a story. Third-person narration serves an obvious and important function; it tells a story in a straightforward manner, commenting, perhaps, on the actions of the characters. In Tom Jones, Fielding's narrator is more akin to someone telling a story at a party for the benefit of other guests. He digresses, he comments wittily, and he describes the actions of his characters.
Fielding has insisted that his work Tom Jones is based upon realism, but the characters in the novel are more theatrical than anything. Even before becoming a writer, Fielding was a dramatist, so the influence of drama is notably seen throughout his works. There are certain elements in the novel which are symbolic of properties used during a stage performance. For example, the muff used by Sophia represents the use of certain stage properties to help grab the reader's attention. Overall, the drama Tom Jones seems to be fairly comedic in nature.
The narrator of the book seems to represent the actual author of the novel, but in a fictional form. He does not actually have a direct place in the novel, but it is not orchestrated from a third-person stance either. If anything, the narrator acts more as a three-dimensional character.
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.
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.