What Does Tom Jones Symbolise

Tom’s character stands out in the novel as one which is entirely ‘unformed.’ He appears to be a mere lump of clay. He has that classic inability to adhere to a given code since he would not understand its worth or relevance. It is a different thing that by nature he is kind and generous. Yes, ‘nature’ is the word. Therefore, good is not good or desirable per se in his case. Instead, it is ‘natural’ for him to be good. As the reader sees, Tom suffers a great deal for being naturally good and selfless. It is entirely understandable, therefore, that conventions, traditions and norms do not mean anything to him but like so many minor hurdles in the way.

We are particularly struck by Tom’s attitude towards women. Tom always treats women, irrespective of their social standing, as equal to men. His behaviour in this context is not influenced by that exploitative attitude under which the males are supposed to manage the affairs of society and women have to merely act as their appendages. He contains within himself the purity of a ‘human’ than the distinctive traits of a ‘male’ which can be taken as a gender construct of a given society. This ‘human’ in Tom constitutes the essential good qualities both of men and women. In fact, in some respects, one can see more of ‘the woman’ than ‘the man’ in him —the softer, purer, more honest and empathy-prone aspects that we have come to historically associate with a woman’s temperament. Apart from this, he can scarcely apprehend that people would act under narrow considerations of profit and on that account take advantage of anyone’s gullibility and innocence. But, as noted above, innocence is Tom’s strong point. It is this which sets him apart from those people, of high as well as low birth, who have become un-innocent in the process of living. Still another trait of Tom’s character is that he is ‘greatly courageous and fearless and has the requisite strength to go ahead in the business of fighting. He would more often than not be able to conquer his enemy if engaged in a fight with him.

So many qualities can be rarely visualised in an individual. It is this which suggests that Tom emerges in the novel more as an idea and a spirit than a flesh and blood character. I say idea,’ not an ’ideal’ The latter has connotations of ‘finishedness’, something which is already there for the human beings to look up to, something like that we find in Mr Allworthy’s case. No, Tom is not that kind of an ideal. On the contrary, Tom exemplifies the idea of ‘spontaneity’ and ‘natural behaviour.’ As an idea, Tom also critiques that which is detrimental to the naturally good aspect among people. If Tom’s character is to be interpreted thematically, he can be viewed as that idea of spontaneity that remains in a state of constant struggle with a pre-existing structure of norms and conventions.

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