(Novels for Students)

Virtue and Vice
The overarching theme of Tom Jones is virtue and vice. The highlighted virtue is prudence, and the featured vices are hypocrisy and vanity.

Prudence, one of the time-honored cardinal virtues of Western culture, essentially means thinking ahead, considering the likely consequences of one’s actions, and acting accordingly. The failure to do this is Tom’s downfall over and over, until the very end of the story. Although Tom has many virtues—he is kind, good-hearted, generous, brave, loyal, and forgiving—his lack of prudence gives his adversaries opportunities to harm him and drives away his beloved Sophia, nearly for good.

Tom’s imprudence often manifests in his behavior with women. In spite of his love for Sophia, he falls into one dalliance after another with unsavory women. He continues this pattern of behavior even though he knows that it is hurtful to Sophia and counterproductive to what he really wants, which is to be with her.

The standard-bearers of hypocrisy and vanity are Captain Blifil and his son, Master Blifil, but they lead a large army of followers. Bridget Allworthy, Squire and Mrs. Western, the tutors Thwackum and Square, Black George, Lady Bellaston, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Lord Fellamar, and others portray the twin vices in many different forms. They all engage in misrepresentation, outright lies, disloyalty, slander, and more in attempting to get what they want, which is money and social status. By displaying these vices in so many characters, Fielding makes clear...

(The entire section is 635 words.)