The narrator claims that Truth is the vital ingredient setting his story apart. The narrator, however, does not want this history to be the kind that is so boring it cannot be digested without a bout of ale. Since the heroine is to be presented in the following chapter, the narrator traces literary examples of hero introductions. He praises the tragic poets, who knew best how to welcome their heroes (with a resounding of drums) and their lovers (with gentle melodies). He self-consciously states: "Our Intention, in short, is to introduce our Heroine with the utmost Solemnity in our Power, with an Elevation of Stile, and all other Circumstances proper to raise the Veneration of our Reader."
Miss Sophia Western, Squire Western's daughter, is ushered into the spotlight. At first the narrator does not provide exact details, hailing instead a string of female characters from high literature and high society, with whom he compares Sophia. Reinforcing his reluctance to paint Sophia's portrait, the narrator elusively says: "most of all, she resembled one whose Image never can depart from my Breast, and whom if thou dost remember, thou hast then, my Friend, an adequate Idea of Sophia." Finally we are graced with the information that Sophia is symmetrical, of medium height, of perfect proportions, with saber-colored hair, black eyes, and "two Rows of Ivory" in her mouth. Moreover, her inside matches her exquisite exterior. If jealousy should look to find fault with her, the narrator supposes that Sophia's forehead could be a little higher. He incorporates the words of John Suckling, John Donne, and Horace in his description of Sophia. Although Sophia's manners lack that polished finish found in the "Polite Circle," such airs are not needed in a character with such "sense" and "natural Gentility." Sophia has been educated by her aunt.
Sophia, at eighteen years old, loves her father more than any other living being. This is why Tom chooses to direct his plea on Black George's behalf to Sophia. The narrator steps back in time to describe the relationship between the neighboring households—they have lived pleasantly enough as neighbors, and Tom, Sophia, and Blifil were playmates as children. Tom's gregariousness appealed more to little Sophia than Blifil's cautious solemnity. In their early youth, Tom presented Sophia with a bird that he had stolen from a nest and trained to sing. Sophia christened the bird "little Tommy" and became so attached to it that feeding and playing with the bird was her greatest pastime.
One day in the garden Blifil persuades Sophia to let him hold little Tommy for a moment. On acquiring the bird, Blifil quickly removes the string from the bird's leg and releases it. Beckoned by Sophia's screams, Tom runs to them and climbs the tree where the bird has perched itself. The branch breaks and Tom tumbles into the canal below. When the adults arrive at the scene, Blifil confesses that it is his fault and explains that he cannot stand to see anything not have its liberty. Tom and Blifil are sent home, Sophia retires to her chamber, and the adults return to their alcohol.
Square, Thwackum, Squire Western, Allworthy, and a lawyer friend of Western's argue about whether Blifil's actions were right or wrong. Square and Thwackum praise Blifil. Western, annoyed with Blifil for depriving Sophia of her bird, simply urges his guests to continue drinking. Allworthy thinks that the action was wrong, but the motivation good, and therefore resolves not to punish the boy. The lawyer enigmatically declares that property rights are "nullius in bonis," confounding the rest of the participants. Soon after, Allworthy whisks Square and Thwackum away.
From the day of the bird's death, Sophia develops a "Kindness" for Tom and an "Aversion" to Blifil. Many events, unnecessary to relate, further these sentiments. Sophia realizes that Tom has no enemy in the world but himself, while Blifil has few enemies but loves only himself. Some people keep good people to themselves, for fear of losing dominion over their goodness. But Sophia acts otherwise—publicly praises Tom, and publicly disparages Blifil. Sophia has returned to her father's house after more than three years of living and studying with her aunt. She hears the story of Black George and the partridge one night while dining with Squire Western, her aunt, and Allworthy. Later, when her maidservant is undressing her, Sophia vents her hatred for Blifil.
In Squire Western's house, Sophia now reigns supreme. Tom often dines with the father and daughter, since he shares Squire Western's passion for hunting. However, Tom has gallantry, which sets him apart from the "boisterous Brutality of mere Country Squires." Tom is now twenty, and has earned a reputation of being a "pretty Fellow" by all the ladies of the neighborhood. Sophia's natural ebullience increases whenever she has the pleasure of Tom's company, but Tom is too young to notice, and Squire Western is too much absorbed in his animals and sports. Unsuspecting, Squire Western allows Tom and Sophia plenty of time alone together. Sophia's heart is "irretrievably lost" to Tom before she even suspects it is in Danger.
Tom asks Sophia one afternoon if she will do him a favor. Sophia blushes, but Tom soon puts her beating heart to rest with his plea for Black George. Tom says that if Squire Western takes action against Black George, it will be surely be the death of him and his family. Sophia, having recovered her composure, smiles and says that this is not a big favor to ask. Indeed, the previous day she herself sent a "small Matter" to Black George's wife. The narrator informs us that this "small Matter" was in fact one of Sophia's own gowns, linen, and ten shillings. Tom had heard of Sophia's generosity, which encouraged him to ask for her assistance. Tom begs Sophia to urge her father to find employment for Black George. Sophia promises to try her best if Tom will return a favor. After exclaiming "I would sacrifice my Life to oblige you," Tom kisses Sophia's hand. This is the first time Tom's lips have ever touched Sophia's body, and she now feels "a Sensation to which she had been before a Stranger." Once Sophia regains her voice, she begs Tom not to take her father on such dangerous hunts. Tom gives his word, and then leaves.
Squire Western likes to hear Sophia play on the harpsichord every afternoon. Sophia, although an accomplished musician, has learned her father's favorite songs—mainly lewd ballads—to make him happy. On this night, Sophia plays his favorites, which elates him. Sophia takes this moment to make her request on behalf of Tom, and her father whole-heartedly agrees. The next morning, Squire Western summons his lawyer to write out a Deputation. Tom's actions are now made public and while some sing his praises others, including Square and Thwackum, harshly criticize him. Allworthy, however, is an advocate for Tom's virtue, which he says lies in the "Perseverance and Integrity of his Friendship." The narrator hints that Fortune will not be as kind to Tom in the following chapters.
While Tom appreciates Sophia's beauty and abilities, he has not fallen in love with her. The narrator speculates that this may stem from idiocy, or from bad taste, but the truth is that Tom is in love with another woman. The narrator imagines that the reader will be indignant that he has heard nothing of this girl, who is in fact the second eldest of the five children of Black George. Molly Seagrim, one of the country's best-looking girls, has transfixed Tom's attentions to the point where his inclinations are to try and force himself upon her. Tom's morals, however, prevent him from doing so.
Molly's beauty is of a rough, unfeminine hue, and her personality is not particularly feminine either—we learn that "Jones had more Regard for her Virtue than she herself." Tom tries to stay away so that Molly will keep her chastity, but she is insistent and eventually has her way. Tom convinces himself, however, that he seduced Molly. Tom is the kind of hero who cannot receive without returning, in love, and he has therefore not returned Sophia's affections because he cannot bear to leave Molly in poverty. Nor does Tom wish to deceive Sophia as long as he is still attached to Molly.
Mrs. Seagrim is the first to notice that Molly is pregnant and she tries to hide it from the neighbors by dressing her daughter in Sophia's gown. The following Sunday, Molly arrives at church looking extremely glamorous in this gown and some adornments from Tom. The other women do not recognize Molly at first, but when they do, they sneer at her.
Sophia is at church and is touched by Molly's beauty. Sophia later calls on Black George to tell him she would like to hire Molly as her maid servant. Black George is secretly shocked that Sophia has not noticed that Molly is pregnant. He heads home for advice from his wife, but the family is in an uproar over what happened at church, when the women assaulted Molly with "Dirt and Rubbish." In retaliation, Molly knocked out the leader of the pack and cleared herself a path using a skull and thighbone from the graveyard as her weapons. The narrator tells the story in an ironic Virgilian style, listing the names of the men and women who fell victim to Molly. Goody Brown is the only woman to fight back. She attacks Molly and tears out her hair. The narrator observes that since women never fail to aim for each other's breasts when fighting, Goody Brown, who is flat-chested, has the upper hand. Tom's arrival quells the fight.
Tom covers Molly with his own clothes and gives orders for Molly to be transported home. Tom departs with Square and Blifil after stealing a quick kiss from Molly. Back in the Seagrim household, Molly is chastised by her sisters. Mrs. Seagrim calls Molly a whore, and Molly reminds her mother that she was also pregnant with her first child before she was married. Black George tells his family about Sophia's offer. Molly does not want to wash dishes for Sophia, and after Molly slips her mother some money, Mrs. Seagrim agrees that Molly is too good to be a maid. Mrs. Seagrim accuses her husband of being a villain who causes trouble for the family by fighting everyone, and it is decided that Mrs. Seagrim will take the job herself.
The following morning, Tom goes hunting with Squire Western and returns to dine with him, Sophia, and Parson Supple the parish curate. Sophia radiates with charm and beauty, finally conquering Tom. Parson Supple is known for his reticence while eating, but after dinner he makes amusing conversation. He happens to drop the news that Molly Seagrim is pregnant and that her father is swearing to send her to Bridewell. Tom excuses himself from the table, which leads Western to exclaim that Tom must be the father of the child. Now he says he understands why Tom pleaded so heartily on Black George's behalf. Parson Supple takes Tom's side, and Western calls Allworthy a "whoremaster," and implies that he was a lover-boy while at university. Parson Supple retorts that Allworthy never attended university. Sophia, having noticed Tom blush during Parson Supple's story, begins to suspect that her father is right. After the guests have left, Western wants Sophia to play the harpsichord for him, but she complains of a raging headache.
Tom returns home on foot to find Molly about to be whisked off to Bridewell. He embraces her in front of everyone and swears he will protect her. Tom speaks to Allworthy and confesses that he is the father of the child. Allworthy sends Molly home and gives Tom a lecture on chastity. The narrator says there is no point in his transcribing this, since we have already witnessed Allworthy's speech to Jenny Jones, and most of what applies to women applies likewise to men. Allworthy disapproves of Tom's behavior but appreciates Tom's honesty. Blifil relates the story to Thwackum, who is enraged that Tom is too old for a whipping. Thwackum conceives of a plan to corrupt Allworthy's opinion of Tom. Square suggests to Allworthy that Tom has only been friendly to Black George in order to win over Molly. The seeds of suspicion are laid in Allworthy's mind.
Sophia does not sleep well and her maid, Mrs. Honour, finds her awake and fully dressed the next morning. Mrs. Honour imparts to Sophia that Tom is indeed the father of Molly's child. Sophia does not want to hear about it, and sends Mrs. Honour to see whether Sophia has to attend to her father at breakfast. The narrator reminds us of Sophia's burgeoning love for Tom, which has now overwhelmed her. Sophia decides that the only cure for her lovesickness is to avoid Tom by making a visit to her aunt. However, an accident will prevent her from leaving.
Mr. Western insists that Sophia join him on a hunting expedition, even though she has no love for violent sports. On the second day, Sophia's horse throws her off and Tom gallops in and catches her, breaking his left arm in the process. Western is elated that his daughter has been rescued and Sophia secretly cherishes Tom's bravery. The narrator delves into examples of philosophers who believe men to outshine women in bravery, and women who love courage in men. Whatever the case, the accident brings Tom and Sophia closer together.
A surgeon bleeds Sophia and performs surgery on Tom's arm. Mrs. Honour prattles to Sophia about Tom's magnamity and good looks, and accuses Sophia of being in love with Tom. Mrs. Honour also tells Sophia that she saw Tom passionately kissing Sophia's muff, which he found lying on a chair. Moreover, when Sophia was playing the harpsichord one day, Tom observed that he could not speak while Sophia was playing. Sophia hushes Honour, protesting that she does not want to hear such talk, but when Honour tells Sophia that Tom once called her a "goddess" Sophia listens intently.
Book IV initiates the love affair between Tom and Sophia. Fielding undercuts the romantic notion of love, however, with the manner in which he describes Sophia, and with the introduction of Molly Seagrim. After rallying his poetic powers in Chapter I for a theatrical presentation of his heroine, the narrator remains elusive in his description of Sophia in Chapter II. It may seem strange that a writer as concerned with detail as Fielding would avoid providing a full picture of his heroine, but his awareness of literary stereotypes of beauty encourage him to treat the topic of beauty with some irony and humor. Reminding the reader of the effort it takes to create a Sophia, the narrator promises to "endeavour with our utmost Skill to describe this Paragon, though we are sensible that our highest Abilities are very inadequate to the Task." Fielding's false modesty parodies previous writing in which heroines are described as walking perfections.
Fielding's vision of the "novel" begins to truly emerge in Book IV. Fielding's narrative certainly takes precedence over florid descriptions and, as mentioned above, he even parodies classical writers' passion for extravagant language. Fielding's writing is pithy and pointed, and he packs each scene with narrative detail. He substitutes flowery, poetic language with a hardened, ironic sort of fictional reporting, and his main interest is to distinguish his characters from one another. Fielding also alludes, however, to people whom he actually knew in England at the time he was writing the novel, thereby grounding the novel in a real historical context. Fielding constantly uses hyperbole to achieve a comic effect. For example, in mock pomp he summons a muse in Chapter VIII to help describe the fight that breaks out between Molly and the parish women at church. With the muse's help, Fielding casts the scene as a widespread war, sprinkling the description with military jargon. The humor of the scene comes from the contrast between Fielding's overflowing, grandiose prose and the grotesque image of two topless women fighting in front of their church.