Themes, Symbols, and Motifs
Virtue as action rather than thought
Fielding contrasts the concept of Virtue espoused by characters like Square and Thwackum with the Virtue actually practiced by Jones and Allworthy. Tom, as the active hero who saves damsels-in-distress and plans on fighting for his country, is the embodiment of the very active type of Virtue that Fielding esteems.
The impossibility of stereotypical categorization
Fielding's novel attempts to break down numerous boundaries. In terms of genre, Fielding cannot decide whether his novel is a "philosophical History," a "Romance," or an "epi-comic prosaic poem." Yet, through these confounded musings, Fielding subtly suggests that cataloguing fiction is silly, and that he would rather think of himself as "the founder of a new Province of Writing."
In another example of broken stereotypes, Fielding's characters cannot be distinguished by "masculine" or "feminine" traits: in this novel both men and women fight and cry.
The tension between Art and Artifice
Although the narrator upholds the value of natural art in his characters, he uses artifice himself in the construction of his novel. For example, he often closes chapters by hinting to the reader what is to follow in the next chapter, or he warns the reader that he is going to omit a scene. In such a way, he prevents us from suspending our disbelief and giving ourselves up to the "art" of the narrative—instead, Fielding constantly entices us to reflect on and review the process of construction.
The narrator invokes the motif of food in relation to the process of writing, the process of reading, love, and war. He begins the novel by referring to himself as a Restauranteer who will provide the reader with a feast. He later defines lust as a person's appetite for a good chunk of white flesh.
Where the narrator opens the novel with a reference to food, he concludes the novel with a reference to travel, casting himself as the reader's fellow traveler. This represents the culmination of a travel motif throughout the novel. As the characters journey from the country to the city, the narrator includes himself as a fellow traveler, remarking that he will not plod through the journey, but will hasten and slow down as he pleases.
The narrator infuses his language—and the speech of his characters—with legal terms. For example, after a petty domestic argument with Squire Western, Mrs. Western refers to their reconciliation as the signing of a "treaty." Such examples reveal the narrator's technique of hyperbole—he uses technical jargon to build up events that are actually irrelevant. However, there are also cases in which the narrator's legal motif is genuine, as both Allworthy and Western are Justices of the Peace, and the lawyer Dowling plays a large part in the plot against Tom.
It is noteworthy that Fielding constantly alludes to the theater, since his novel is in some ways more "dramatic" than it is "literary." The motif of the stage reminds one that Fielding thinks of his characters as "actors." Nevertheless, the fact that Fielding refuses to provide detailed visual descriptions of his characters slightly undermines his theatrical motif. Clearly, he wishes to vacillate between the visual world of the dramatic and the written word of the prose novel.
Sophia's muff stands in for her in situations when Sophia cannot physically be present herself. This is made evident by the fact that she attaches her name to the muff before leaving it in Jones's bed at Upton. Since both Jones and Sophia kiss the muff, it allows them to achieve a closeness despite their physical distance.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!