Study Guide

Tom Jones Narrator Point of View

By Henry Fielding

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Narrator Point of View

First-Person Peripheral Narrator

Tom Jones's narrator is definitely first person, since he says, "I" all the time. In fact, he makes references to his real life off the page, as Henry Fielding, so we know that the narrator is supposed to stand in for the author. (As an example of the narrator/author blur, check out our notes on Charlotte Cradock, Fielding's first wife, on our list of "References.") But the narrator does not participate directly in the action of the book. He stands off to the side, observing and commenting. That's why he's a "peripheral" narrator: he tells the story, but he's not part of the central action.

This off-to-the-side point of view allows the narrator to speculate freely about why the characters do what they do. But it also means that he often can't say, with a hundred percent certainty, that he's right about their motivations. So, for example, the narrator says he's not sure if Lord Fellamar bribed Lady Bellaston to help him marry Sophia (16.8.11). Which leads us to ask—

Why would the narrator admit he's not perfect?

We can think of at least a few reasons: when the narrator says he doesn't know something about the story he's telling, it's often strategic—and hilarious. So, regarding the guard who thinks Tom is a ghost at Upton and shoots at him, the narrator comments:

Whether fear or courage was the occasion of his firing, or whether he took aim at the object of his terror, I cannot say. If he did, however, he had the good fortune to miss his man. (7.14.17)

This whole passage is just dripping with contempt for this superstitious guard. When the narrator says that he "cannot say" if the guard shot at Tom's "ghost" out of fear or courage, he's implying that it doesn't matter either way—the guy is an idiot, and he's lucky he missed Tom. The narrator's point of view as an observer gives him lots of opportunities for this kind of sarcastic comedy.

The limited perspective also makes gives us a sense of closeness and intimacy with the narrator. He's willing to admit to us when he's not totally sure of something, which makes us feel (weirdly) more confident that he is telling the truth. The narrator is a lot more willing to admit his own flaws than, say, Squire Western or Lady Bellaston (those two would rather swallow hot coals than admit that they were wrong). So we often like the narrator better than the characters he describes.

But most of all, this narrative perspective adds to Tom Jones's overall sense of realism. No one knows everything, not even the narrator of a novel. By admitting to the limits on his own understanding, the narrator reminds us that he is supposed to be human. His limited point of view makes him seem more three-dimensional and believable as a character.

Tom Jones Narrator Point of View Study Group

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