Tom Jones as a Picaresque Novel
Is Tom Jones a picaresque novel? To know the answer of this question, it is essential to know the details of the term picaresque. The term picaresque has been derived from a Spanish word 'Picaro'. Its meaning is - a rouge or knave or a villain etc. Thus a picaresque novel is an episodic depiction of the adventures and the misadventures of a picaro. Mostly he wanders on the highways. He moves from one place to the other.
The picaresque form gives ample scope to the novelist. This form does not require a well organised plot. The movements of the protagonist give an opportunity to introduce a wide variety of events and characters. The hero is now in the country, now on the highways, now in London. He confronts thieves, rescues beautiful damsels and falls in love. He fights duels, suffers arresting and comes in touch with a vast variety of people. In fact, the novelist paints the society as a whole. This form gives the novelist enough scope to throw light on the life, culture and morality of the age.Picaresque novel emerged as a distinctive genre in the 16th century in Spain. A notable French example of the form is Lesage's Gil Blas. In Spanish Cervantes' Don Quixote is also a fine example of it. In English Thomas Nash and Defoe followed the tradition. Later Fielding and Smollett maintained it.
Fielding's Tom Jones has been considered a picaresque novel. Though it is not a regular picaresque novel, it reflects the major characteristics of the picaresque form.Tom Jones, the protagonist of the novel, is an illegitimate child. He is turned out of home by his patron. The one-third of the novel depicts Tom's adventures in the countryside. Molly's battle in the churchyard and Tom's escapade with Molly in the bushes are all in picaresque tradition.
When Allworthy dismisses Tom in Book VII, he takes the road to bristol. Here the picaresque nature of the novel becomes evident. In this novel one can find Tom's involvement in some breathtaking adventures on the roadside. Sophia and Mrs. Honour are also put on the road to London. As the protagonist passes through various scenes, meets with various incidents. He comes in contact with a great variety of characters. He joins the army. He rescues the man of the hill.
Tom fights several times for a good cause. He is beaten and wounded. He saves Mrs. Waters. He stays at the Upton Inn. Here some hilarious comedies take place. Tom continues on the roadside. He meets ruffians, beggars, highway-men and gypsies. Many thrilling and sensational incidents take place. Once he is arrested and presented before civil magistrate. In this way Fielding employs a lot of picaresque elements. It enables him to bring his hero in contact with different strata of the society. With the help of this form, he presents the true and complete picture of the life of the times. He presents the contemporary social evils as well as human follies and foibles.
In short, Tom Jones has a lot of picaresque elements. But in many respects it does not follow the picaresque tradition. Its hero is not a rogue. He is kind, generous and sensitive person. He is a man of helping attitude. Its plot construction differs from the picaresque novel. The aim of the novelist is definitely moral. Its adventures are not arbitrarily designed. Thus it can be said that though Tom Jones has a lot of elements of picaresque novel, but it is not a regular picaresque novel.