What is the plot construction of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones?

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Published in 1749, Tom Jones by Henry Fielding is one of the earliest examples of an English novel. Its plot is divided into 18 books and follows the life of its titular character, Tom Jones, through all his life obstacles.

The novel begins with Tom as a baby showing up...

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Published in 1749, Tom Jones by Henry Fielding is one of the earliest examples of an English novel. Its plot is divided into 18 books and follows the life of its titular character, Tom Jones, through all his life obstacles.

The novel begins with Tom as a baby showing up in the bed of Allworthy, a wealthy gentleman of a country estate. Allworthy decides to raise the boy in his household alongside his own nephew, and the plot proceeds to follow Tom's life as he grows up, falls in love with various different girls and women, and gets into scuffles and arguments with acquaintances all the while with his origins remaining mysterious.

Tom's life takes a turn when he is banished from Allworthy's estate over a misunderstanding. He thus travels around the countryside and then eventually to London, meeting more women and also being pursued by his former love from Allworthy's estate, Sophia. While on his travels, he gets into a duel with a scorned husband of a woman he slept with and is even thrown into jail.

In the end, however, the many misunderstandings are cleared up. Tom winds up with Sophia, his true love, and it is revealed that he is, in fact, Allworthy's actual nephew. He lives happily ever after with Sophia.

As an early example of a novel, Tom Jones exhibits how the novel as a form creates a totality of human experience through biography of a main character. Specifically, this character is usually a problematic character—such as Tom Jones—who searches through many obstacles in life to eventually find himself and harmony in his life.

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The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) is from the wave of the modern European novel, and the form had hardly been established by the time Fielding disrupted it. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1712) has been cited as (arguably) the first extended fictional character study, and, as a personal account of an exceptional experience, it was received as exotic.

But beyond the basic elements of compositional structure, Fielding's conception was to operate the narrative through-line with a different, expanded purpose. He elevated his storytelling to a forum for the play of ideas, set within the organic, mounting plot and creating more than a diversion.

Tom Jones is also possible to further (sub-)categorize as a Picaresque novel. The Picaresque is an incident-driven genre featuring a motley hero's journey, the adventures of a sympathetic rogue in and out of romantic love, or bitter enmity and deathly peril. Fielding varies from the Picaresque outline only in narrating from an omniscient point of view, rather than from the conventional first-person, and in his tight, suspenseful plotting.

But Fielding's authorial POV goes beyond the contours of the story at hand, into philosophical asides and japes about the human condition. He weaves a wide tapestry, with descriptive headings above all the chapters, and all the while the plot mounts chapter by chapter. As dense as the prose is, Fielding manages to imaginatively leap in and out of his character's inner monologues, as well as addressing the reader directly and personally. This book is a satire of rude human nature, with the author and readership bound in complicity.

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Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones was written during a time when fiction as a literary form was just emerging. Hence, there was a scope of much experimentation and newness. Potential of this new form was, then, unbound. Fielding experimented a lot with the style, characters, plot structure, etc. in Tom Jones, and for this his novel even received harsh criticism from literary experts Richardson and Samuel Johnson. Nonetheless, it came out as a huge success as one comic masterpiece during its time. The plot of Tome Jones is not loose, and all the segments are carefully joined. It is very balanced, symmetrical, complex but neatly drawn. There are some 18 books in total that gives this novel a formal epic style. Besides, there are a lot of twists and misunderstandings in the plot which do not get solved until the climax. The journey of moral growth of the main protagonist- Tom who is a foundling, a rogue- makes this a picaresque and bildungsroman novel. Tom Jones has a unique narrative structure with mainly the author butting in every now and then and giving his comic yet responsible comments on almost everything that occurs and doesn’t occur in the plot. The plot is symmetrically divided into three parts- the first set of six books is the introduction that introduces us to our main protagonist- Tom, his ways, his attraction for Sophia, animosity with Blifil, and arising misunderstandings with Allworthy. All this happens when Tom is at home. In the second part (next six books), Tom leaves his home, and wanders in the suburbs. There he has numerous encounters, meets many problems but resolutions also happen. In the remaining six books, Tom is put into serious trouble and, in fact, is about to be killed, but just in time everything is cleared and he is saved. Even though there's so much happening in the novel, the readers don't feel that the plot is disjointed, and that reflects mastery of Fielding's technique.

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