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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Literature and Writing

Tristram Shandy is a novel about novel-writing—and that was pretty novel. In the mid-eighteen hundreds, the "novel" was starting to be recognized as a new form of writing, thanks to Samuel Richar...

Fate and Free Will

In Tristram Shandy, fate rules your… fate. Everything happens by design, and no individual is master of his own destiny. At the same time, maybe Tristram has it wrong. He also claims that the rea...

Time

In Tristram Shandy, Tristram is in a race against time: although he's writing as fast as he can, he can't write fast enough to keep up with his life. But unlike life, which can only be lived in one...

Language

Tristram is the guy you'd never want to play at Scrabulous. He likes to mess with the meaning of words, make jokes and puns, and suggest words that he doesn't actually mean. He also gives each of h...

Identity

Tristram Shandy wants to know which came first: the chicken or the egg? It might be a tired question, but Tristram treats it in a brand new way. Can education and knowledge change identity, or is i...

Knowledge

What do we know, how do we know it, and how do we know that we know it? The big word for that is "epistemology," and Tristram Shandy is getting down with all the epistemological questions. At some...

Foolishness

In Tristram Shandy, everyone—including Tristram—is one step away from joining the Mad Hatter's tea party. Serious subjects are always one step away from being the subject of ridicule, and Trist...

Education

Like knowledge, education is a little suspect. The most highly educated people in Tristram Shandy are also the stupidest: the scholars who endlessly debate pointless questions; Walter Shandy, who's...

Science

Let's just say that no one adheres to the scientific process in Tristram Shandy. Knowledge is one thing—it can be good or bad—but Shandy-style science is guaranteed to be useless. Reason and em...

Sex

Sex is everywhere in Tristram Shandy, but it's constantly being pushed aside, interrupted, and deferred. You could even say that Tristram Shandy doesn't contain one completed sex act—like the nov...
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