Characterization in Tom Jones: Complex, but still Static

In Narratives Technique in the English Novel, Koingsberg argues that the older, neoclassical concept of personal identity is not “a lesser way of depicting character, but, rather, a different one that conformed to an older view of human nature” (Koingsberg). However, rather than merely “different,” I find this method of characterization shallow because it fails to account for the human ability to grow and change. As evidenced within Tom Jones,  this perspective allows for the “complexity of human behavior” and acknowledges that no one person is either purely good or purely evil, but its tendency to create static characters destroys the novel’s realism, lessens the enjoyment of reading, and erodes the story’s moral teachings.

To Fielding’s credit, his characters are not short on complexity. Tom Jones, the hero of the story and title character, presents a particularly interesting view of humanity. His gallantry plays against his roguish behavior; his good intentions are contrasted with frequent affairs. While on one hand, Tom and the novel’s other characters reflect the varying motivations and conflicting impulses present within one’s psyche, on the other hand, their behavior soon becomes typified within the bounds of their complexity. Tom’s good intentions become an excuse for the immorality of his actions. His behavior becomes predictable and the plot episodic and dull as the warring elements of his nature become a diatribe on character rather than a dialogue.

While Fielding’s characters serve as a catalyst for spirited debate on a number of topics, thus far in the novel, they remain stunted in sameness. Although their many dimensions add a realistic element to their personalities, at the same time, their failure to evolve renders them flat. Readers can question character judgment and form opinions on morality when reading Tom Jones, but these lessons cannot take root when coming from characters who stay the same. Hopefully, this point will become moot as the novel progresses and characterization continues, but as of now, the complexity of Fielding’s characters does not render them interesting, realistic, or morally instructive.

 

Works Cited

Fielding, Henry. Tom Jones. Ed. John B. Bender and Simon Stern. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

Konigsberg, Ira. Narrative Technique in the English Novel: Defoe to Austen. Archon Books, 1985. Print.

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