Study Guide

Tom Jones Morality and Ethics

By Henry Fielding

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Morality and Ethics

Tom Jones isn't all sex jokes and romantic comedy (though it has plenty of both). There's some serious stuff going on, like Big Moral Issues. According to Squire Allworthy there are two ways to be immoral: imprudence and villainy. And they're very different.

Tom's imprudent: too much drinking, too much sex, too much spending, etc. This gets him into sticky situations that are, for the most part, hilarious. But then there's villainy (like that of Mr. Blifil), and villainy is Serious Bizniz because it permanently points your character to the Dark Side. So while Tom has made some serious mistakes, as long as he changes his tune, all's forgiven. But once a villain, always a villain.

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. How does gender influence morality in Tom Jones? Does Fielding emphasize different moral traits for men and women, or is there a universal moral code in place in the novel?
  2. The novel's happy ending suggests that Tom can come back home and redeem himself for his ethical mistakes. Are there any characters who cannot be redeemed? Why or why not? What kinds of crimes appear to be unforgivable in this book?
  3. Squire Allworthy gives moral lectures to multiple people in this book, including Jenny Jones, Molly Seagrim, and Tom himself. Does the novel always seem to agree with these speeches? Are there ever moments when the novel makes fun of Squire Allworthy's moral vision? If so, when and how? If not, why is Squire Allworthy beyond satire?

Chew on This

Sophia and Tom both honor their guardians, even when those father figures treat them badly. This respect towards authority implies that the most important ethical trait in Tom Jones is gratitude to your benefactors.

While Squire Allworthy is the moral center of Tom Jones, his inability to recognize insincerity and hypocrisy in the people around him undercuts his ethical lessons and makes the reader question the authority of his wisdom.

Tom Jones Morality and Ethics Study Group

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