John Dennis states that in a just fable “the Good must never fail to prosper, and the Bad must be always punished: Otherwise the incidents, and particularly the Catastrophe which is the grand Incident, are liable to be imputed rather to Chance, than to Almighty Conduct and to Sovereign Justice”. Is the ending of Tom Jones reminiscent of some ancient idea of divine justice, or is this justice more incidental and dependent on the choices of humanity?
The humorous misunderstanding of Mrs. Waters as Tom’s mother and the near fatal altercation with her husband, the reader is called to think about Oedipus. Oedipus Rex, being the model for Greek tragedy, could be the antithesis to Tom Jones. After all, Tom Jones is a comedy in which events could be seen as maneuvered by the choices characters make. Mrs. Waters discloses Tom’s birth which grants him the position to attain his happy marriage. Characters like Mrs. Miller and Square reveal the true innocence of Tom to Allworthy. Fitzpatrick admits to provoking the duel that put Tom in jail. Characters are also responsible for punishment. Dowling informs Allworthy that Blifil held back Tom’s true parentage, causing Allworthy to see him in a new light that leads to his banishment from Allworthy’s life. In this way, punishment and reward are delegated by the actions of the characters.
Perhaps Tom is meant to parallel Oedipus in that his destiny is governed by fate alone. Although characters have the power to turn things around for him, Tom himself is powerless no matter how good he is to others. Events seem to happen to Tom. His downfall occurs due to a string of random events, such as seeming to have slept with two different women that he surprisingly had not had an affair with. The chance meetings of all of these characters such as Mrs. Waters, who happens to know Tom’s story, and Partridge who seems to just show up are all examples of very incidental events that lead to this chance happy ending. Maybe justice is served, but perhaps not by the characters, but by chance or even fate. The unity of the plot hints that there is a higher order governing the events other than the characters themselves.
Is fielding trying to support the Greek idea that fate is not on the side of good or bad? Unlike Oedipus, Tom just happens to find out his parentage just in time to have a happy ending. Even if there is some form of justice that is given by fate, is Fielding agreeing with Sophocles that humanity cannot control his own destiny? Or is Fielding overturning the Greek belief in fate? Is Fielding saying that it is up to honest people such as these to bring about a happy ending for their fellow man?
Nixon, Cheryl L, ed. Novel Definitions: An Anthology of Commentary on the Novel 1688- 1815. Peterborough Ontario: Broadview, 2009. Print.