The narrator reminds us of his earlier warning that his History will not document every second of time, and that the reader must therefore flesh out the time by arriving at his own opinions of the characters. Through a series of rhetorical questions, the narrator suggests that he does not need to describe the grief Allworthy experienced at the death of Captain Blifil, nor does he need to elaborate on the character of Mrs. Bridget Blifil. The narrator says that such analysis would be for a lower class of reader, and he expects much more from "the upper Graduates in Criticism." Since the narrator knows that most of his readers are of superior intellect, he has granted them twelve years in which to exercise their skills of penetration. Now he is impatient to introduce the novel's hero at fourteen years of age.
Tom Jones, is introduced with an unfortunate anecdote. Tom possesses many faults, chief among them being his passion for stealing. Tom has recently stolen fruit from an orchard, a farmer's duck, and a ball from the pocket of Master Blifil, the son of the late Captain Blifil. Master Blifil abounds in "Virtues" and is praised by the neighborhood whereas Tom is despised. Blifil's virtues, in a nutshell, are sobriety, discretion, and piety.
The narrator presenta us with a vignette to reveal these boys' opposing characters. Tom's only friend is one of the servants of the household, a gamekeeper, and Tom's give the things he steals to this man's family. One day, Tom goes hunting with the game-keeper, and, at Tom's bidding, they follow some partridges into the estate of Allworthy's neighbor, which Allworthy has warned the game-keeper not to do. The neighbor hears the sound of the game- keeper shooting one of the partridges and, arriving at the scene of the crime, finds Tom with the dead bird, since the game-keeper has leapt into a bush to hide himself. The neighbor goes straight to Allworthy and tells Allworthy there must have been two people involved because he found two guns. Yet when Allworthy asks Tom who his accomplice was, but the boy maintains that he was alone. The game-keeper also pleads innocent. Tom receives a flogging from Mr. Thwackum, the Reverend whom Allworthy has hired to educate Tom and Master Blifil. Later, Allworthy relents and tries to remedy the situation by giving Tom a little horse as a present. The narrator predicts that a dinner between Allworthy, Thwackum, and a third unnamed gentleman will soon ensue.
Mr. Square, who has been living some time with Allworthy, is introduced. Although not naturally intelligent, Square has improved himself through education, and is well-read in the ancient philosophers. Square believes that a man should always be a speculator and sees virtue as a "Matter of Theory." Square and Thwackum are always arguing, and their only similarity is that neither will ever refer to the concept of "Goodness" in arguments. Square maintains that human nature is inherently virtuous, while Thwackum believes in original sin. Over dinner at Allworthy's table, Square and Thwackum debate whether honor can exist independent of religion. Their voices rise in volume and anger until something interrupts their debate. The narrator tells us we will have to wait until the next chapter to find out the nature of the interruption.
Before continuing his story, the narrator takes it upon himself to rebut the arguments of both Square and Thwackum, arguing that neither of them should ignore the "natural Goodness of Heart."
The dinner is interrupted by Master Blifil who has a bloody nose from a fight with Tom. Tom is smaller, but is by far the better boxer, and Blifil has "Tears galloping from his Eyes." Tom explains that he punched Blifil after the latter called him a "Beggarly Bastard." Blifil denies this and accuses Tom of lying. Blifil reveals that Tom's accomplice in the partridge incident was Black George, the game-keeper. Tom pleads with Allworthy to have mercy on Black George and his family, and takes full blame for the incident, saying it was his idea to trespass. Allworthy dismisses the boys, asking them to treat one another more amicably in future.
As usual, Square and Thwackum take Blifil's side, praising him and denouncing Tom. Allworthy refuses to let Thwackum beat Tom, but he summons Black George and dismisses him from the Estate, albeit with a generous severance package. Allworthy's harsh punishment stems from his belief that it is worse to lie to save yourself than it is to save another. When the story begins to circulate, many people applaud Allworthy's judgment, commend Tom as "a brave Lad," and indict Blifil as a "sneaking Rascal."
Blifil has won over Square and Thwackum by always agreeing with their doctrines, which means that he has to keep silent when they are together, since their teachings always clash. Blifil, young as he is, has also learnt the art of "second-hand flattery"—praising Square and Thwackum to Allworthy, who goodheartedly conveys all of Blifil's compliments back to the men. Thwackum was recommended to Allworthy by a friend, and although Allworthy perceives Thwackum's faults, he has faith that Square will balance them out. Square and Thwackum despise Tom, who, the narrator admits, is "a thoughtless, giddy Youth, with little Sobriety in his Manners." Allworthy, however, allows Tom to call him "father."
Both Square and Thwackum are interested in Bridget. The narrator says that one may wonder why so many male visitors to Allworthy's house have been attracted to Bridget, who is neither beautiful nor young. He then elaborates that men "have a Kind of natural Propensity to particular Females at the House of a Friend when they are rich." Both of the men have discovered that the easiest way to curry favor with Bridget is to show kindness to Blifil and contempt for Tom. Although Bridget flirts with both Square and Thwackum, all she truly desires is "Flattery and Courtship," for she does not wish to remarry. Square notices, however, that Bridget has hardly anything to do with the upbringing of her son, and harbors animosity towards Blifil because of the bitter memory of his father. On the other hand, she thrives on carrying out Allworthy's plans for Tom's well-being. The neighbors attribute Bridget's devotion to Tom to her obedience to her brother, but the narrator suggests that the maturing Tom has become attractive to women. Once the neighbors realize that Bridget is smitten with Tom, they call him a "rival" to Square and Thwackum. Bridget now revels in Tom's company.
As soon as Allworthy realizes that Bridget now neglects Blifil in favor of Tom, his relentless compassion for the underdog induces him to protect Blifil. The narrator preaches prudence and circumspection, arguing that it is not enough to be virtuous inside, and that one must take care to ensure that one's virtue shines through to the outside as well. The narrator hails himself as a kind of "Chorus."
Half a year has passed since Tom sold the horse Allworthy gave him at a fair. When Tom will not tell Thwackum what he has done with the money from the sale, Thwackum prepares to beat him. Allworthy walks in and questions Tom in private. Tom calls Thwackum a "tyrannical Rascal," and Allworthy cautions him against using such language. Tom tells Allworthy he gave all the money from the horse to Black George and his family, who have been living in poverty since Allworthy dismissed them. Allworthy sheds some tears in appreciation of Tom's compassion.
Some time before, Tom sold a Bible given to him by Allworthy to Blifil. Blifil has been wielding the book about the house, reading from it more than he ever did from his own. Because Blifil flaunts the book so much, Thwackum eventually notices Tom's name on the Bible, "obliging" Blifil to divulge how he obtained the book. Thwackum condemns Tom's action as sacrilege, but Square and Bridget Blifil do not agree.
Squire Western, Allworthy's neighbor, arrives with further accusations against Black George head. On an evening walk, however, Tom leads Allworthy and Blifil to Black George's abode, where the family's poverty excites Allworthy's empathy. Allworthy gives money to Black George's wife for clothes for the children. At home, Tom further on the family's behalf, and Allworthy promises to support them. Tom runs through the rain to tell them the good news. The narrator warns, however, that Black George's fortune is about to take a down turn.
Although Blifil remains mute in Tom's presence, when Tom leaves he recalls an incident that occurred about a year after Allworthy dismissed Black George: with his family on the brink of starvation, Black George killed and sold a hare to a middleman. The middleman was suspected of poaching and, obliged to provide a scapegoat named Black George to Squire Western. In telling the story, Blifil contorts the facts and says that Black George poached dozens of hares. Disgusted, Allworthy promises Tom he will continue to support Black George's family, but he does not want to hear Tom mention the game-keeper's name again.
Tom attempts to clear Black George's name by appealing directly to Squire Western, with whom he has become friendly through his sporting skills. Squire Western, vastly impressed with Tom, now shares his horses, dogs, and guns freely with Tom. Squire Western loves his seventeen-year-old daughter, and Tom therefore decides to take his appeal to her. However, since this girl is "the intended Heroine of this Work," the narrator does not deem it appropriate to introduce her at the end of a book. The narrator cautions us that he himself is in love with her, and expects many readers to fall in love with her by the end of the novel.
Book III charts the maturation of the novel's hero, Tom Jones, from age fourteen to nineteen. Although the narrator feigns reserve in Chapter II at having to introduce a flawed hero, his admiration for Tom's generosity and altruism subtly emerges in the way that he contrasts Tom Jones with his foil, Master Blifil. The characterization of these rivals is typical of Fielding's characterization throughout the novel: he couches bad characters' vices in a favorable light, while feigning a cheeky disapproval of the good characters' vices. For example, the narrator makes it clear that Blifil's "virtues" breed nothing but a sniveling predilection for tattling. This method of characterization results in the narrator developing an ironic stance toward Blifil, and the obvious differences between what the narrator claims he wants to show of Blifil and what he actually does show creates a rift that works to reveal Blifil's hypocrisy.
The narrator does not intend, however, for us to see Tom and Allworthy as perfect. Indeed, by calling Tom his "Heroe," he means to reinvent the term, for, as he clearly states in Chapter V, he does not "pretend to introduce any infallible characters into this History."
The narrator mockingly elevates the small scale of his plot by using hyperbolical language. The exaggerated idea of Blifil's tears "galloping" from his eyes in Chapter IV underscores Blifil's parochial small-mindedness. In spite of his concern for language and terminology, the narrator admits that he prefers to show rather than tell, and his use of stage metaphors in relation to the writing process underscores his desire to depict scenes rather than states of mind. The worthiest characters in the book conform to this style of narration by being particularly active: Allworthy and Jones constantly engage in charitable actions, while the only action the allegedly pious Square and Thwackum indulge in is whipping Tom.
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