Significance of Places in Tom Jones

An important thematic aspect of the novel is the division of life in segments. These particular representations bear the stamp of the place to which they belong. Together, these concrete segments bring to life the whole diversity as well as interrelatedness of eighteenth-century English life. As a faithful observer of contemporary situations, Fielding presents the true picture of his surroundings, doing it with the intensity and passion of a creator of history.

There are three distinct places in the novel — Somersetshire, the road (paths, towns and villages spread over the distance between Somersetshire and London), and the city of London. As far as Tom is concerned, these three represent distinct phases in his development. For instance, Somersetshire stands for a dull and stagnated existence. In spite of the two learned men, Square and Thwackum (who interpret situations specifically), the place has been managed and governed for a long time by narrow perception and belief. Magistrate Allworthy uses his intellectual might just to help people out of the errors they commit. Squire Western quarrels or socialises with neighbours on the basis of ordinary principles. The common people — men and women — fight it out in physical terms whenever a disagreement between them takes place. Others steal or snatch. If chance permits, they also cheat. Among the clever ones, Blifil mixes truth and lies to good effect so that he can outwit the best of men. But what we largely see is a pattern under which the movement is circular— you come back to the point from where you started. I draw your attention to Sophia’s mother who married the wrong man. The daughter Sophia is also going to marry the wrong man (Blifil) under circumstances that are essentially similar. To think of another detail, Partridge, the supposed father of Tom, is constrained to leave the place and Jones is equally well forced to run away from it. This place also strongly suggests that movement and liberation lie elsewhere though Tom and Sophia who runs away with this consciousness do not know where and how exactly they can attain deliverance. What is certain is that Somersetshire holds no hope.

The second place, the road, stresses Tom’s need to move and explore. The road also gives Tom scope to reach another place where joining with his beloved may be possible. It holds our hope. On her part, Sophia becomes gradually aware of the value of marriage with a person gifted with natural goodness. This ‘road’ is rough and difficult, both literally and metaphorically. But it is here that the action is. There is no 27 place better than the road to present the vibrant life of eighteenth-century England. Fielding gives us a rare view of the people on the move. The reader sees the soldiers going to fight for causes that may determine the political nature of the country. But these soldiers, in their amorphous military formation, behave as individuals with whom the common reader can easily identify, and whom our hero joins for a short period. In fact, Tom thinks for a while to become a soldier — the only difficulty with him is that a career in the military will take him away from his other ‘destination,’ Sophia. Fielding persists with the depiction of fights, journeys, escapes, etc. in the Man of the Hill episode also. We can imagine, too, the variety of social life that the England of the eighteenth century contained — the innkeepers, travellers in stagecoaches, doctors, priests, barbers, or the gypsies making merry in a secluded part away from the road. The ‘road’ as a phase of Tom’s search and exploration, as mentioned above, is not smooth or straight and can give unexpected jolts to the traveller.

The city of London offers a radically different picture. There is ‘life’ all right but no movement, apart from that which is noticed on the surface. The world of intrigue and scandal is seen to engulf everyone. We also perceive a conflict between the country squire (Allworthy, Western) and the lord (Fellamar) in London. For Western, it is unthinkable to have Lord Fellamar as a son-in-law — the two worlds of status and privilege (of the countryside and the city) being in a state of antagonism. As Lady Bellaston and Lord Fellamar become active to tame and ensnare Sophia, one feels that there is no chance whatsoever of Sophia and Tom uniting. Here, Fielding raises the question of Tom’s efficacy as a hero struggling for survival in an atmosphere fraught with threats and dangers. Still more serious is the issue that contending groups converge upon London, a world which itself is quite crisis-ridden, to find a solution to their problems. The city of London makes the possibility of ‘comedy’ extremely narrow as the fighting faculties of Tom gradually decline.

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