Tristram Shandy Book 5, Chapters 26-31 Summary

Laurence Sterne

Book 5, Chapters 26-31 Summary

Hearing his son yell out, Mr. Shandy waits downstairs for someone to tell him what has happened. When Susannah ran down earlier from Tristram's room, she encountered Obadiah and quickly told him what had happened before she hurried over to Toby's house. So Obadiah is left to tell Mr. Shandy about Tristram's accident.

Once Mr. Shandy learns the details, he goes upstairs, where he finds his wife examining their son. After Mr. Shandy looks at his son, he turns around and quickly leaves the room.

Mrs. Shandy assumes that her husband has gone to get some kind of medication, but when Mr. Shandy returns with his arms filled with books, Mrs. Shandy thinks her husband is researching possible herbal remedies. However, Mr. Shandy tells his wife that if she is looking for an herbal cure, she will have to call Dr. Slop.

The only thing Mr. Shandy is interested in learning from his books is whether or not history approves of what Tristram has suffered, which the narrator insinuates is similar to a circumcision. After reading his volumes, Mr. Shandy discovers that it is not only Jewish people who approve of circumcision but also Egyptians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabians, and many other people from other cultures also follow the practice.

So Mr. Shandy concludes that if it good enough for all those people than it is good enough for his son. In other words, Mr. Shandy is less interested in his son's health and welfare than he is in how his son might be accepted in society.

Mr. Shandy says that if circumcision is such a common practice among so many people, there is no reason for him to be worried about Tristram's painful accident. He even comments that because of the accident, when Tristram is old enough to travel to Egypt to see the pyramids, he will fit right in with the people living there.

The narrator comments that this incident of Tristram's accident was not recorded by Mr. Shandy in the "Tristra-paedia" that he was writing. It is Tristram himself who later writes the chapter about his accident and adds the chapter to his father's book.

While later discussing the matter with Toby, Trim, and Yorick, Mr. Shandy references his son's accident as Tristram's strange way of practicing his religious beliefs. "Never was the son of Jew, Christian, Turk, or Infidel initiated" into religious rites as obliquely and "slovenly" as Tristram appears to do it.

Toby is the only one who seems concerned about Tristram's health. Toby finally asks his brother, after listening to all the historic references Mr. Shandy is making concerning the practice of circumcision, if Toby is going to be all right. Mr. Shandy responds that he is not sure.