Study Guide

Joseph Andrews in Joseph Andrews

By Henry Fielding

Joseph Andrews

He's Just An Average Joe

Before Average Joe was the subject of a mediocre reality TV show, he was Fielding's go-to guy to show off middle-class values. After all, he's "the highest degree of middle stature" (1.8.4). He's not super-ambitious about being anything other than a footman, and he's not particularly bright about worldly matters (sorry, Joe). We mean, seriously: he has no clue that Lady Booby is trying to get with him, even though she invites him right into her bedroom, where she's lying around naked.

So why is Joe the kind of guy who inspires some guy to write an entire book about him?

It might be easy to say we're supposed to make fun of who Joseph is and what he represents. But the thing is that Joseph also has "a dress, and an air, which to those who have not seen many noblemen, would give an idea of nobility" (1.8.5). An average Joe who also looks like a nobleman makes us think that Joseph might represent some kind of an ideal to his readers. In the novel, it's as if everyone generally wants to help Joseph out because he represents the best parts of average people.

Pretty and Pure

One thing matters above all others to Joseph, and that's staying "pure and chaste" (1.13.5). In this, he's taken some lessons from his famous sis Pamela, the virtuous heroine of Samuel Richardson's mega popular—and, according to Fielding, mega lame—novel of the same name. Joseph doesn't seem to have a problem turning down Lady Booby or Mrs. Slipslop, but he's also coming to the realization that continuing to resist sex may be difficult.

That's why he writes to Pamela to affirm that he's doing the right thing. Pamela, the girl with the world's biggest rep for being the purest in town, is basically his life coach in all things.

Joseph has an end goal, though. He wants to preserve his "virtue" for "the arms of my dear Fanny," his childhood sweetheart (1.13.5). Ladies love Joseph, but he only has eyes for the milkmaid next door. We don't often see Joseph struggling to stay chaste when he's around Fanny, but he always seems to bring it up in his letters to Pamela. All that inner turmoil has to come out somewhere, right?

It's not that Joseph's against getting it on—he just wants to get in on at the right time, with the right person.

Don't Mess with His Girl

Joseph may be mild-mannered, but the one thing that gets him madder than a wet hen is when Fanny's life is threatened. A different side of Joseph emerges when a bad guy decides to mess with his sweetheart. As soon as he knows Fanny's safe from the dastardly squire, he gives the captain "a most severe drubbing, and ended with telling him, he had now had some revenge for what his dear Fanny had suffered" (3.12.6).

If Joseph sometimes has violent impulses, it's just because he cares too deeply for Fanny and his friends. Everyone thinks he's just a carefree footman who doesn't know left from right, but his troubles on the road show how vulnerable the people closest to him are. Joseph may have rose-colored glasses from growing up with Pamela, but he proves he can hold his own when he encounters a bunch of deceitful men along the way who are only out for themselves. When Joseph finally faces off with Beau Didapper, he doesn't even hesitate: poor Beau gets "so sound a box on his ear, that it conveyed him several paces from where he stood" (4.11.1).

It turns out there's more to Joseph than meets the eye.

Holding His Own

Sure, Joseph's indebted to Parson Adams, his mentor and an all-around good guy. Adams has a knack for showing up at the most convenient times, like when Joseph's at death's door after having been robbed. Or how about when Adams prevents Fanny from being attacked? Let's give Joseph his due, though. Not only is he his own person, but also, he gradually develops the ability to defend his loved ones and argue Adams into the ground.

For instance, Adams has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to public schools. Adams just doesn't see the point of them. Joseph politely begs to differ, offering an example of how "great schools are little societies, where a boy of any observation may see in epitome what he will afterwards find in the world at large" (3.5.3).

Sure, it's only a little tiff between two good friends. But it's one of the first times we see Joseph differing from his beloved mentor and generating an opinion that's all his own. Let's just call it the New and Improved Joseph: the road warrior who boxes ears like a maniac and uses his education to eloquently argue his point. If this is a coming-of-age story, it all comes down to Joseph figuring out how to be a big boy.