The novel as we know it today fulfills a variety of roles, serving as everything from a medium for political commentary, to a portrayal of a character’s life, to an embodiment of a particular time in history, to a form of entertainment. At the time of the novel’s creation, however, the goal of the emergent medium was less fluid, and writers of the era instead came to define a singular purpose for the new form through their pioneering works. While stylistic choices and methods of characterization varied widely within the first novels, the range of techniques employed represents the pursuit of a common purpose: to impart a moral to the reader and to present an ideal way to live life.

As discussed in Langford’s “Retelling Moll’s Story: The Editor’s Preface to Moll Flanders,” Defoe includes a preface to his work and crafts the editor of Moll’s story as a separate character in order to strengthen the novel’s didactic power. By overlaying details surrounding Moll’s life of crime with added-in exclamations of her repentance, explanations of lessons learned, and sincere expression that the reader learn from her mistakes, Defoe  emphasizes the novel’s role as a teaching mechanism for morality.

The role of the author also comes into play when defining the purpose of the novel. In his essay, “Reading at Arm’s Length: Fielding’s Contract with the Reader in Tom Jones,” Sherman discusses the need for the author to continually entertain the reader in order to keep he or she reading onward. In entering into a contract with said readers and promising to fulfill this obligation as an author, Fielding insures the success of his novel. It follows that if readers are entertained by a work, they will be engaged with it as well, and can thus learn from the example of Tom and the idea of virtue as put forth by the storyline.

Although the author’s presence was not always so prevalent in the first novels, his or her intention in imparting a moral to readers remains constant regardless.  As discussed by Katrina Clifford, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless presents a strong case for “subtradition within the domestic novel” and “emphasizes the negative effects male authority can have over women” (Clifford, 4). In highlighting a subversive viewpoint through the medium of her novel, Lennox presents a new perspective of female roles in society for readers to embody and adopt.

The use of “Nobody” characters, as discussed by Gallagher, also serves authorial intent in crafting a work with a moralistic message in mind. In moving away from specific characterization that could only be applied to one person and incorporating character types that could be applied to a wide variety of people, authors of the era insured that their intended life lessons resonated with a large audience.

In his article “Generic Transformation and Social Change: Rethinking the Rise of the Novel,” McKeon discusses “questions of truth” and “questions of virtue” raised by the novel form. Both types of questions ask “What kind of authority or evidence is required of narrative to permit it to signify truth to its readers?” and “What kind of social existence or behavior signifies an individual’s virtue to others?” (McKeon, 4) Answering these questions is imperative for an author in order to insure that his or her moral message is understood. Exploration of ideas regarding both virtue and truth thus serves the authors’ purpose of conveying a meaningful moral to readers.

 

The novel as we know it today fulfills a variety of roles, serving as everything from a medium for political commentary, to a portrayal of a character’s life, to an embodiment of a particular time in history, to a form of entertainment. At the time of the novel’s creation, however, the goal of the emergent medium was less fluid, and writers of the era instead came to define a singular purpose for the new form through their pioneering works. While stylistic choices and methods of characterization varied widely within the first novels, the range of techniques employed represents the pursuit of a common purpose: to impart a moral to the reader and to present an ideal way to live life.

As discussed in Langford’s “Reteling Moll’s Story: The Editor’s Preface to Moll Flanders,” Defoe includes a preface to his work and crafts the editor of Moll’s story as a separate character in order to strengthen the novel’s didactic power. By overlaying details surrounding Moll’s life of crime with added-in exclamations of her repentance, explanations of lessons learned, and sincere expression that the reader learn from her mistakes, Defoe  emphasizes the novel’s role as a teaching mechanism for morality.

The role of the author also comes into play when defining the purpose of the novel. In his essay, “Reading at Arm’s Length: Fielding’s Contract with the Reader in Tom Jones,” Sherman discusses the need for the author to continually entertain the reader in order to keep he or she reading onward. In entering into a contract with said readers and promising to fulfill this obligation as an author, Fielding insures the success of his novel. It follows that if readers are entertained by a work, they will be engaged with it as well, and can thus learn from the example of Tom and the idea of virtue as put forth by the storyline.

Although the author’s presence was not always so prevalent in the first novels, his or her intention in imparting a moral to readers remains constant regardless.  As discussed by Katrina Clifford, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless presents a strong case for “subtradition within the domestic novel” and “emphasizes the negative effects male authority can have over women” (Clifford, 4). In highlighting a subversive viewpoint through the medium of her novel, Lennox presents a new perspective of female roles in society for readers to embody and adopt.

The use of “Nobody” characters, as discussed by Gallagher, also serves authorial intent in crafting a work with a moralistic message in mind. In moving away from specific characterization that could only be applied to one person and incorporating character types that could be applied to a wide variety of people, authors of the era insured that their intended life lessons resonated with a large audience.

In his article “Generic Transformation and Social Change: Rethinking the Rise of the Novel,” McKeon discusses “questions of truth” and “questions of virtue” raised by the novel form. Both types of questions ask “What kind of authority or evidence is required of narrative to permit it to signify truth to its readers?” and “What kind of social existence or behavior signifies an individual’s virtue to others?” (McKeon, 4) Answering these questions is imperative for an author in order to insure that his or her moral message is understood. Exploration of ideas regarding both virtue and truth thus serves the authors’ purpose of conveying a meaningful moral to readers.

Interpretive Problem: What role does the large number of characters play in Tom Jones?

Along with pages, snarky chapter titles, and sly interjections from the narrator, if there’s one thing Tom Jones isn’t short on, it’s characters. Although the title takes its name from the novel’s one central figure, so many others populate its pages, one practically needs to develop a separate catalog system just to keep track of them all.  What is Fielding’s purpose in creating so many characters? What role does the sheer volume of fictitious figures play in the novel as a whole?

On one hand, a large cast of characters contributes to the novel’s realism. Although most people have a core group of family members and friends with whom they predominantly interact, their lives are not limited to these people. In this way, the wide range of characters found in Tom Jones mimics reality.  Just as readers meet more people as they grow up and as life goes on, Tom naturally runs across more people after he leaves Allworthy’s manor.
Numerous characters could also serve to encourage readers to pay close attention when reading the novel. Remembering so many names and mentally juggling a high volume of personalities is no easy task. Fielding may have intended to spur his readers on intellectually and facilitate a deeper level of literary engagement by continually creating characters for them to mentally manage.
On the reverse side of the argument, Fielding may have purposefully included numerous characters in order to confuse the reader. He may have been well aware of the difficulty in keeping up with various personas and might have intentionally incorporated such a large cast in order to heighten the novel’s element of surprise. An intimidating number of characters could thus be seen as a device through which Fielding both crafts the unity of the plot and insures that readers are continually shocked by the novel’s various twists and turns.
The desire to teach the reader a moral lesson could also be seen as part of the reasoning behind Tom Jones’ large cast. As discussed by Sandra Sherman in her essay, “Reading at Arm’s Length: Fielding’s Contract with the Reader in Tom Jones, “Fielding sought to qualify readers, conferring pleasure with pain, and (as a type of benevolent patron) inculcating lessons on the nature of truth and discernment” (Sherman, 232). Lessons of this type, along with numerous others, are made possible through a variety of characters. A large cast allows for a wider range of character dynamics and interactions, thus heightening both the complexity and number of morals imparted by the novel.

Although the sheer number of characters present in Tom Jones is a challenge to manage, the variety of personalities at work creates an enriched reading experience and engenders multiple interpretive possibilities.

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

Sherman, Sandra. “Reading At Arm’s Length; Fielding’s Contract With The Reader In `Tom Jones.’.” Studies In The Novel 30.2 (1998): 232. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.

The Role of the Hat in Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”

When a neighbor dies unexpectedly, Laura is the only one who wishes to cancel the garden party, insisting that that it would be “heartless” to carry on with the celebration so close to the site of the accident. Her attitude changes, however, when she dons a new hat. What significance does this article of clothing carry? Why does it change Laura’s attitude? What kind of statement does Mansfield make about the upper class through its introduction?

The hat holds a variety of meanings in relationship to the attitudes of the upper class. Given to Laura by her mother, it signifies that Laura is growing up and is now mature and ladylike enough to don it. The fact that Laura’s atttitude towards her less fortunate neighbors changes once she wears it could mean that concern for the lower class is born out of childishness and not knowing any better.  Growing up and becoming an adult means that one no longer concerns him or herself with the misfortunes of  the less privileged.The hat also serves as distraction for Laura. “Quite by chance” she catches a glimpse of her reflection and sees a “charming girl in the mirror.” This incident points out the many distractions faced by the upper class. Mansfield may be making a statement that the various trappings of their lives render it difficult to pay attention to or care about any one issue. After donning the hat, Laura’s concern for her neighbors seems “blurred, unreal, like a picture in the newspaper.” The hat also symbolizes the wealthy’s obsession with status and material things. Laura herself calls it “extravagant,” and it appears to the reader a frivolous item to be swept away by. The hat also points out Laura’s susception to flattery and predisposition to vanity. After hearing a few compliments from others, she forgets about her neighbors almost entirely and later displays hesitancy to bring them a basket of food. Although Laura’s hat holds a variety of meanings within “The Garden Party,” none of them reflect favorably on the upper class.

Marriage and Amelia

Throughout the course of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, the reader remains unsure of how to feel regarding central character, Amelia Sedley, oscillating between praise for her goodness and simplicity and disdain for her excessive sentimentality and inability to view other characters objectively. This question remains at the novel’s end. How is the reader supposed to feel regarding her marriage to Major Dobbin and birth of a subsequent child? What does her fate indicate about the role her charcter plays in the novel as a whole? What does it reveal about Thackeray’s view of her disposition?

Amelia’s marriage to Dobbin could be viewed as a just reward for the trials and hardships she has endured over the years, an appropriate prize for remaining sweet and good-natured in the face of her family’s downfall, the death of her husband George, and the removal of her son George from her home. In marrying her off to what the novel portrays as a true gentleman, Thackeray could be making a statement about what constitutes as true virtue. Although Amelia may be overly emotional and subjective in her views of the two Georges in her life to the point of being stupid, she is guileless and good at heart, and these qualities make her worthy of this happy fate.

On the other hand, the marraige of the two could leave the reader unsatisfied and may be viewed as undeserved on Amelia’s part. She remained stubbornly attached to her woefully false view of George until the very end, used Dobbin to suit her needs, and only appreciated him once he was gone. Although she does see the error of her ways eventually, it is not enough to outweigh the flaws present in her personality in the novel’s preceding 800 pages. Dobbin may be equally to blame for his own blindness to her true qualities and willingness to return to her, but the marriage seems an unworthy prize for a thoroughly unsympathetic character, an unfitting end for one so annoying.

The Use of “Young” in The Cry of the Children

In her poem, “The Cry of the Children,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning repeatedly emphasizes the youth of the children. What purpose does this serve? Aren’t all children already assumed to be young? From a more technical point of view, a “child” is anyone under the age of eighteen. In using the phrase, “young children,” Browning may be simply indicating that her subject matter is under the age of ten rather than an adolescent nearing adulthood. Browning’s repeated use of the adjective “young” to describe the children could also serve to further highlight the discrepancy between their age and their attitude towards life. Even though it is generally understood that children are young by virtue of being children, Browning may be using repetition to insure that her audience fully comprehends how young the poem’s subjects are to be so downtrodden and depressed.In continually emphasizing the young age of the poem’s subjects, Browning could be trying remind her readers of the connotations generally associated with youth–vitality, innocence, eagerness, and optimism–and then point out how many of these qualities the children lack. Use of the word “young” could also serve as a contrast to the word “old,” which is also used repeatedly throughout the poem.

The Role of Captain Dobbin in Vanity Fair

Tall, awkward, and not particularly easy on the eyes, Dobbin is different than his upper class peers,a stuttering standout amongst the beautiful, eloquent, and impeccably dressed. What role does Dobbin play in  Vanity Fair? How does his character contribute the Thackeray’s commentary on the upper class?

On one hand, Dobbin could be used to soften the readers’ view of the upper class. His acts of kindness, such as buying back Amelia’s piano after her family lost everything, and gentle spirit could prove that not everyone rich and privileged is shallow and selfish. He serves as an encouraging contrast to his louder, more worldly peers.

On the other hand, Dobbin’s behavior could be viewed disfavorably, his flaws no different from those of the rest of the upper class, just manifested in another way. His undying love for Amelia could come off as pathetic, his obsession with her self-indulgent. In going out of his way to see her whenever possible and construing his actions to please and impress her, Dobbin’s motives could be seen as just as selfish and shallow as the rest of high society.