Role of Narrator in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones

There is a kind of omnipotence in the narrator of Tom Jones. He can do whatever he wants to. He can, for instance, give a specific direction to the course of events and influence the decisions of characters. More, he can defend his actions with the force of argument. This serves a useful purpose in the novel and compels us to think about the identity of the protagonist. Normally, the author is himself the narrator. However, we come across many authorial comments that are to be accepted by the reader as such and those others where the author talks tongue-in-cheek. The problem is further compounded when we see the narrator at work, not in the sense that he narrates a saga but that he creates a saga after his own liking and judgement, and narrates it in the very process of creating it. The author himself combines this kind of role in Tom Jones. Still, as the action unfolds, we see a distancing between the narrator and author as well as the creator and author. This has happened because the ‘history’ called Tom Jones has been conceived in the broadest possible comic mould—a serious analyst and commentator wearing a comic mask has taken upon himself to ‘create’ a ‘history’ according to the law of probability and convenience. Nay, this serious-comic voice does not accept any discipline for itself and, in fact, rides roughshod on territories of morality, religion, ethics, love, beauty, carnal pleasures, meannesses, etc.

Those who see the narrator as the author himself would face the difficulty of proving that the whole unfolded ‘drama’ in the novel can be no more than an extension of Fielding’s consciousness – that the unifying element in the novel is the author’s understanding. This goes against the clash of perspectives in the novel with Fielding not willing or being able, to provide coherence to a number of discordant voices. Tell me who is right or wrong – Mrs Waters, Allworthy, Bridget, Tom? What I think is that the totality of the novel constitutes a dramatic interplay between various parts and these parts have an existence independent of the author’s consciousness. Yes, in the absolute sense, the serious-comic narrator has been conceived and created by the author but once that has ‘taken place, the narrator has begun influencing and determining the course of happenings unrestrained by the author. If we do not accept the concrete existence of the narrator/narrators in Tom Jones, we would be hard put to comprehend those points in the novel’s progress where things stop ‘moving.’ We notice that wherever this happens, the narrator butts into not merely explaining many things, but invents arguments, situations, chance happenings, and even total reversals of fortune. The narrator never fights shy of taking the blame for such interventions and bravely moves on to tell unbelievable things. And the joke is practised invariably under the pretext of ‘history.’ I feel that the serious analyst and commentator has withdrawn himself many a time from behind the mask or, to put it differently, allowed the mask to be peculiarly shaped by the comic intention. Most of the voices, then, are masks. In either case, Fielding the author seems to watch helplessly the movement of the action

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