Study Guide

Tom Jones Appearances

By Henry Fielding

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95% of the dark comedy of Tom Jones comes from looking past a character's positive appearance to see the weakness and the hollowness within. So, Lady Bellaston appears fashionable and lovely on the outside, but if you scrape off all that pancake makeup, you would see a petty, bitter woman underneath.

But the only way we can laugh at a character's false appearance is if we (as readers) can see both sides of her personality at the same time. It's very rare that Fielding actually tricks the reader with a character's surface appearances: for example, we know that Mr. Blifil is a self-serving, lying fiend about a hundred chapters before the characters in the novel do. Why does FIelding always let us in on the secret? Does Fielding ever try to fool us about a character's nature?

Questions About Appearances

  1. Tom Jones spends a lot of time showing the flaws underneath seemingly good and righteous appearances. But how about the reverse? What about characters who have bad reputations that hide good hearts? What do these kinds of characters share in common? Where do these bad or good reputations come from?
  2. Certainly, appearance matters a lot to the characters in Tom Jones. But how does the narrator talk about social perceptions of him as an author? What concerns does he have about his public reputation?
  3. What can we figure out about the characters in Tom Jones from their physical appearances? How does the narrator use physical appearance as a tool for characterization?

Chew on This

While the narrator continually warns the reader not to pay too much attention to appearance when judging his characters, the lovely faces of both Tom and Sophia reflect their spiritual and ethical superiority over the other characters in the book.

Although the characters that try to read the facial expressions of others often misinterpret what they see, Fielding still uses the face as a reliable method of characterization. This power of the narrator to read faces correctly gives him authority over and above any of the other characters in Tom Jones.

Tom Jones Appearances Study Group

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