Tom Jones is the hero of the novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, but not because of heroic qualities. He is the protagonist who holds the interest of the readers right from his birth till he is settled in life. He has been called an unheroic hero by some critics in the sense that he lacks the qualities of great heroes of history and what is conventionally accepted as heroic in human being. As a matter of fact, modern realistic novel has altogether different concept of hero and heroics qualities than the conversational one. Modern realistic novel takes its material from average human being. So hero of a modern novel can be a man from ordinary family but he does possess some extraordinary qualities, though not wholly a perfect character like the heroes of epics and romances. He is a man of virtue and nobility but like common human beings he has his weakness and failings as well.
It is doubtless that fielding created the character of Tom, modelled on his own personality. Fielding compares him both with Hercules, the strongest man in Greek mythology and Adnois, the most beautiful man in Greek mythology. His handsome appearance and innocence become the source of all his troubles and misfortune. He also possesses the sterlings qualities of head and heart and proved himself equal to the task.
As a matter of fact, he has some novel qualities which raise him higher than a common average man. Fielding seems to suggest that some human beings, like Tom are born good and they never get perverted while living in a corrupt and wicked world. Tom is a good-hearted youngman, frank and open-hearted as well who despises ”every species of falsehood and dishonesty”. He is generous to a fault and is ever ready to help the needy and the poor, thought he may remain himself hungry. Often he gets into troubles, while helping others but he does not mind it. He is chivalrous, selfless and disinterested, yet expects no reward from those whom he helps at great risk. It is in his nature to be generous. He is a man of conscience and when his conscience pricks him on wrong doing, he is ready to make amends for his mistake. He has a strong sense of honuors. Of course, his concepts of honour is personal and not conventional.
A sense of gratitude is deeply ingrained in his nature. Thought he is not religious and pious in the usual sense of the terms, yet he possesses the important christian virtues of charity, compassion and forgiveness. He possesses those qualities which are considered to be supreme in life like good nature, goodness of heart, compassion and mercy. Mrs Miller’s assessment of Tom ‘s character is very apt. She says, ”I do not pretend to say the young man is without faults; but they are over-balanced by one of the most human, tender, honest heart that every man was blest with.”
Tom lacks prudence and shrewdness and finds himself in trouble all the time. He has the innocence of a child but he is frank and forthright and annoys others, particularly his two teachers. Tom instinctively feels that Blifil is a sneak, a pious humbug and crook by nature. Tom is openminded boy and he dislikes his tutors for their hypocrisy and affectations. On the slightest pretext, he is thrashed by teachers. Moreover, they always side with Blifil and malign Tom. Tom is equally resentful to their action and defies them.
Tom is considerate and his heart is full of compassion for others who are in trouble. He does not mind if he suffers in the process. Once he was caught by Squire Western for poaching and was given a good deal of whipping but Tom did not disclose the name of his accomplice. He told lies because he knew it well that Black George who is already facing financial problem will lose his job, if his name is leaked out. He stood by Molly and gave the proof of high sense of honour, thought he had to pay a heavy price for it and Allworthy expelled him from his house. Moreover, he shows his love for Sophia, when he came to know that he may not be the father of the child of Molly.
Sophia has also an intuitive feeling that Tom is basically a good man and his waywardness and indiscretion is not due to any wicked trait in him but the result of his impulsive nature. He wins the love of Sophia. When he hurts himself while saving her, Sophia was completely won over. During this period their relation strengthened and Sophia takes the drastic step of fleeing from the house of Tom.
Tom possesses many noble qualities but he is not free from weakness also. He is a lusty fellow and easily becomes victim of attractive women who try to seduce him. He has little control over his animal nature which soon leads him astray and it becomes the cause of his first ruin. Molly traps him for his physical personality and vitality, while Sophia loves him for his innate goodness. As a matter of fact, it is his waywardness and imprudence that pushes him into ruin and disaster. When his passion is incited, he forgets the deep love for Sophia even.
He also becomes victim of another sophisticated lady, Lady Bellaston. Here again he succumbs and gives the proof the proof of weakness for fair sex. His affair with Lady Bellaston is most condemnable. It shows that Tom is too guileless and foolish in this wicked and corrupt world.
In London, Tom nurtures and begins to learn from his experience that ultimately he emerges a balanced man. He is too innocent to understand the machination of his enemies. When he finds himself in prison, he curses himself for being a fool. He broods over his misfortune and realises that prudence, tact and forethought are equally important factors for success in life. It is the school of life which teaches him wisdom and prudence.
To sum up, we can say that Tom, right from the beginning is good, open-hearted , high-spirited and handsome youngman. He is also impulsive, thoughtless and sometimes his waywardness becomes the cause of his ruin. But it goes to his credit that in the face of heavy odds, he never loses his sense of generosity and his mind is not disordered. Ultimately it is genuine love for Sophia that redeems him. He realises that goodness and generosity alone are not sufficient; one must learn to be prudent and also not to take people at their face value. It is of utmost importance that we should first assess them intelligently and thereafter deal with them accordingly.