A picaresque novel is characterized as being composed of a series of adventures centered on a single protagonist. These adventures take the central character to a variety of places and introduce them to many different characters. Throughout all this, the society in which the story is set is showcased and examined.
Tom Jones does all these things. In this novel, the titular character goes from the countryside to the city. Along the road, he meets many different types of people and gets himself into and out of all sorts of trouble. A picture of English society at the time is showcased in the varied landscape and the many different elements of English society with which Tom interacts. Throughout it all, the story serves to shine a mirror on society. It showcases the pitfalls of avarice, human weakness, and vice through the use of satire. This all places the novel squarely in the tradition of other picaresque novels.
However, Tom Jones differs from the picaresque in one significant way. In a typical picaresque story, the protagonist's many adventures are separate from each other. They stand alone. The hero is not on a single quest or mission. Tom Jones does not follow this model. Despite the length of this novel, its story is quite organized. When the work is looked at as a whole, it appears to be laid out in a clear fashion. Tom is on a single mission, although he is waylaid many times. In this sense, Tom Jones departs from the standard picaresque model.