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Book iii, chapters iv through vi. joseph andrews
Book iii, chapters iv through vi. joseph andrews
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Book iii, chapters iv through vi. joseph andrews

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  • 1. Book III, Chapters IV through VI. Analysis. Wilson's biography prompts Mr. Adams and Joseph to have a nature-versusnurture debate about how men acquire moral insight; the ensuing exchange provides further evidence both of Adams's faulty ideas about human nature and of Joseph's increasing shrewdness and confidence. Adams, it appears, has some unsound notions regarding the origins of virtue and vice: in declaring public schools "the Nurseries of all Vice and Immorality," he implies that moral character, for good or ill, derives from external conditioning, so that a proper moral education entails sheltering boys from depravity and keeping them forever "in Innocence and Ignorance." Such a theory hardly has room for the doctrine of Original Sin; one thing it can accommodate, however, is Mr. Adams's high opinion of his own skill and importance as a pedagogue: as Fielding observes, Adams's emphasis on the moral significance of education owes much to his belief in the schoolmaster as "the greatest Character in the World, and himself as the greatest of Schoolmasters." As if this reference to the parson's vanity were not enough to render his arguments suspect, Homer Goldberg points out a discrepancy between Adams's theory and his practice: whereas Adams here professes to consider the world at large to be corrupt in the main, when he himself is abroad in the world he demonstrably expects that its inhabitants will be as innocent and ignorant as the most sheltered private-school boy or as Adams himself. Joseph propounds a more cogent theory of moral education and in the process shows himself to have a better command than his mentor of some of the most important themes of the novel. Fundamentally, Joseph rejects Adams's premise of the universality of original innocence, suggesting instead that while some boys are born with basically virtuous natures, others are naturally vicious. External factors, including education, exert only limited influence on the development of moral character, for "if a Boy be of a mischievous wicked inclination, no School, tho' ever so private, will ever make him good; on the contrary, if he be of a righteous Temper, you may trust him to London, or wherever else you please, he will be in no danger of being corrupted." Joseph himself, having emerged immaculate from the cesspool of London, is Exhibit A in support of this argument; nor does the case of Wilson, who eventually transcended his corrupt environment (and after all had left his public school early), at all disprove it. Thus, having previously excelled only in commonsensical matters, Joseph suddenly evinces superior insight into human nature; his ability to overshadow the parson in the parson's own specialty, namely education and moral philosophy, suggests that Fielding may be priming him to retake center stage, which Adams has occupied since his entrance late in Book I. Joseph is not infallible, however, and ensuing events belie his assertion that a good action defies ridicule: the bizarre Squire whose hunting dogs harass Adams so relishes "everything ridiculous, odious, and absurd in his own Species" that he does not hesitate to "turn even Virtue and Wisdom themselves to Ridicule." Readers have often criticized the scene in which the pack of hounds dismantles the "poor innocent" hare and then turns its attentions to the poor innocent parson, on the grounds that the slapstick action goes beyond comedy to cruelty. Certainly
  • 2. the Hunter of Men is barbaric in his valuation of dogs above humans and, later, in his pleasure in subjecting Adams to a series of nasty practical jokes, and it may be tempting to conclude that Fielding, insofar as he expects the reader to laugh along with the Hunter of Men, has descended to barbarism as well. What seems more likely, however, is that Fielding did not in fact intend for the dogs' attack on Adams to be humorous in itself (though whether it is humorous in the manner of its telling is a separate issue, on which see more below); rather, the episode allows Adams to recover some of the sympathy that he forfeited during the recent exposures of his vanity and naïveté. If Adams's characteristic foible, usually endearing but recently exasperating, has been his willingness to become a dupe and victim of the vicious world, here the vicious world victimizes him so cruelly that the reader's sympathies cannot help but return to him. As Goldberg puts it, "Here the world's baiting of Adams, which began with his entrance into the Dragon Inn, is carried to its savage extreme." The Hunter of Men exemplifies the vices of the world because, unlike most of the people who have victimized Adams and his companions, he is not self-interested in the ordinary way; his pleasure, like that of the false-promising Squire (only more darkly and violently), is to perpetrate mischief for its own sake. Fielding tempers the unpleasantness of the incident, however, by rendering it in humorous or burlesque diction. The battle with the hounds, in fact, constitutes the lengthiest application of mock-epic diction in the entire novel; it spoofs elaborately a number of conventions of epic combat, including the invocation of the Muse ("who presidest over Biography"), the Homeric epithet ("the Plain, the young, the gay, the brave Joseph Andrews"), the minute description of the hero's weapon ("It was a Cudgel of mighty Strength and wonderful Art," etc.), the brief biographies of fallen warriors ("Ringwood the best Hound that ever pursued a Hare, . . . Fairmaid, a Bitch which Mr. John Temple had bred up in his House," etc.), and, almost, the epic simile ("Reader, we would make a Simile on this Occasion, but for two Reasons . . ."). All of this ironical classicism exemplifies the Preface's definition of "burlesque" as "appropriating the Manners of the highest to the lowest," and it does so more dramatically than does any other burlesque passage in the novel. Whereas a more conventional burlesque passage would describe a lowly human brawl in terms appropriate to heroic combatants (the hog's-blood battle is a good example of this approach), the battle with the hounds takes burlesque to another level by using the same heroic terms to describe subhuman combatants, a pack of dogs. One of the effects of this verbal humor is to impart a sense of narratorial oversight: the counterintuitively funny presentation of violent actions calls attention to Fielding's ability to frame his tale, modulating his own and the reader's reactions to it, and thereby reminds us that all events are under the novelist's control. In turn, the use of mock-epic diction implies the presence of a benevolent designer, with Fielding functioning as a substitute deity who watches over his characters even when they seem to be in the most danger. Aside from being funny, then, Fielding's burlesque diction fits violent events into a comic frame and reassures the reader that, notwithstanding the shocking depravity on display in this scene, providence has not ceased to operate. BY FRKNiaXi@gmail.com

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