Study Guide

Tom Jones Society and Class

By Henry Fielding

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Society and Class

Tom Jones really goes up and down the British class hierarchy: you've got the Seagrim family, living practically naked from poverty on Squire Allworthy's estate. And you've got Lord Fellamar, flouncing around London with multiple servants and lots of free time on his hands to plan horrible things to do to Sophia. Fielding is pretty even-handed about pointing out the bad sides of all the people we meet in the novel, even those who are very high up on the social ladder.

At the same time, this isn't some democratic novel suggesting that we shouldn't have social classes at all. Tom Jones seems to argue that some people are naturally superior to others, and that superiority often (though not always) goes along with higher birth. Eww.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Are some social classes funnier than others in this book? How does the comedy of the novel change depending on the social class of the people involved in a given scene?
  2. How does Fielding justify including all social classes in this novel? Does the tone of the novel shift when he moves from one class to another?
  3. How does Tom's experience of "society" change when he moves from the countryside into London? What are some of the universal characteristics that people in both places share? What are of the differences between countryfolk and city folk, according to Tom Jones?

Chew on This

By claiming that the upper class has less variety, and thus less opportunity for satire, than the lower classes, Tom Jones implies that the working classes are more appropriate subject matter than aristocrats and lords for the kind of realism Fielding wants to create.

Tom Jones criticizes the hypocrisy and deceptiveness of city society much more harshly than the gossip and melodrama of the countryside. By portraying country society as rough and rude rather than villainous, Tom Jones implies that the countryside is morally healthier than the city.

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