How does Henry fielding realistically mirror the 18th century society in Tom Jones?


Tom Jones is one of the very first novel in English literature written by Henry Fielding and published in 1749. Henry Fielding insisted upon calling Tom Jones a history because he wanted to present a realistic account of the life of his time i.e. 18th century society. He believed that a work of fiction should be used to tell the truth of the society.

In Tom Jones, we find the reflection of 18th century English society. He doesn’t reflect only good things but also reflects middle class family and their problems, that is why most of the character represent the middle- class  society of 18th century. Therefore , this is a novel in which he presents a life history of Tom from the time he was born till the time he married to Sophia.

Also, we can say, that this novel is discovery of a young boy on the bed of Squire Allworthy.  This boy has a name Tom Jones, who is referred as bastard that means an object of ridicule, rejection and condemnation. This discovery puzzles and confuses the moralistic traditional of society of 18th century.

Fielding’s representation of reality of 18th century society

The novel Tom Jones realistically mirrored the 18th century society by representing the difference between high and middle class society which was supposed to be  seen in that time. It also compares and contrast rich and poor classes and how they establish relationship with each other (the relationship with the man of the hill episode) and the people of countryside following the way of city life.

Tom who in the beginning being represented as an orphan and brought up by high class Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget, who truly depicts the society. Also, Allworthy’s nephew master Billfil and Jones share the generosity of the benefactor equally.

The treatment that the two get bears testimony to Allworthy’s sound principals of Christian behavior. Therefore, to Jones problem of preservation comes as we see from a good and understanding Christianity which unhappily beyond the scope of most of the inhabitants of the place. During this, what also strikes us is that Mr. Allworthy, because of his privileged position could alone rescue the helpless Foundling from difficulty circumstance.

It would have been totally different if Mr. Allworthy the good Christian and an example of moral rectitude were an ordinary person. We witness that Allworthy’s decision to adopt the child starts off a whole series of loud and not so loud protests as suspicions about his motives.

Therefore, Allworthy’s decision to adopt Tom is undoubtedly an act of transgression in traditional moral terms of society which clearly torches upon the economic aspects of such as inheritance of land and money. Therefore, the world of landed property and privileged has so far used Christianity to legitimize its existence and has pushed higher virtues beyond the purview of common people.

Fielding’s representation of 18th century society, Tom’s  relation with his so- called family (Allwothy, Bridget and Bilfill) excluding squire Allwothy, master Bilfill shows his hypocrisy and plot against Tom because he wants to inherit the property alone.

Tom being adopted by rich family, always shows the concern for lower class people, his friendly nature with maid and servants and the people of county side. This is true picture of 18th century society England.

Sophia a well- behaved girl who is in love with Tom, but Tom carelessly flirts with every woman in the novel that is too is a representation of being a bastard child of society. Tom who is fascinated by Sophia’s beauty, had relation with Partridge’s daughter Molly and the other female character too even he pregnant one. Whereas, Sophia who is like an ideal father’s ways is not an ordinary occurrance and leaves a deep impact on her personality.

Like in reality when a daughter opposes against his father’s will, the father creates a situation to tame his daughter which depicts the middle-class perception of society.

Fielding however indicates a meaningful relationship between Tom and Sophia. He, in fact believes that the two perspectives complement each other and are in fact  parts of significant totality. Therefore, we can say through this novel fielding has realistically mirrored the different aspects, views and perception of society.


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