Study Guide

Tom Jones Book 7, Chapter 1

By Henry Fielding

Book 7, Chapter 1

A Comparison Between the World and the Stage

  • The world has been compared to a stage many, many (many) times.
  • (The narrator lists some of the ways that other people have compared life and the stage:
  • (a) acting can often look so much like real life that people take it for truth;
  • (b) life is brief, like a play (that's Shakespeare's idea, at least); and
  • (c) everything that happens in life is set out by an unseen director (so, the narrator is talking about God).
  • But when people talk about life = stage, they don't usually mention the audience.
  • Let's take, for example, the whole Black George disaster a couple of chapters ago.
  • The people in the cheap seats would probably holler and stamp their disapproval.
  • (We think we go into this category—we're happy to shout over what a complete jag that guy is.)
  • In the slightly more expensive seats, people would still disapprove of Black George, but they might not be so loud about it.
  • Down among the artists and critics, opinion is probably divided over whether or not it is morally right to have such a villain go unpunished in a play.
  • In the expensive seats, if the audience is paying attention at all, they might think that Black George seems vaguely bad.
  • But if you can look behind the scenes (like the narrator can), you would know that Black George is just playing his part.
  • He's not a villain—or at least, not all the time.
  • Most people play multiple kinds of roles—villain, hero, fool—in different situations.
  • One bad act doesn't make you a permanent villain.
  • So a wise man doesn't jump to conclusions in making judgments about people.