Introduction. The plot of Tom Jones has been admired by numerous critics. But almost all of them express their reservations about the validity of the various interpolated stories in the course of the narrative. Intermingled in the narrative of Tom’s fate are the fates of other people. The episodes, at first sight, seem irrelevant. There have been critics, however, who offer justifications for the inclusion of the interpolated episodes and stories.
The Quaker episode. The Quaker takes Tom for a gentleman. His story is reminiscent of Tom’s plight in relation to Sophia. Tom himself seems to see the connection, for he makes an intense plea to the Quaker to refrain from making his daughter unhappy. The situation within the Quaker’s family is another example of a seemingly permanent social barrier to marriage. Tom’s genuine concern for the Quaker’s family brings out his inherent good nature.
The story of the Man of the hill. A major digression in the novel is the episode concerning the Man of the Hill and his story. But we notice that the circumstances of which the Man of the Hill speaks resemble those of Tom. The recital, however, brings out the inherent difference between the natures of Tom and the Man of the Hill. The old man has become a recluse after his experience of life. Tom, on the other hand, is too involved in life to become a recluse. Tom’s attitude is a healthy one of which Fielding apparently approves.
Tom’s encounter with the highwayman and Nightingale. The highwayman who attacks Tom and is overcome by him turns out to be a relative in distress of Mrs. Miller’s. His situation shows that many good and deserving men in this world can suffer and have unhappy lives. It also provides another opportunity for Tom to show his good nature and generosity of impulses. Tom’s involvement with Nightingale, again shows his inherent generosity and willingness to help others. The encounter also brings out the essential contrast between Tom and Nightingale, hence serving to emphasize Tom’s better stature. While Nightingale is a moral coward, Tom is brave and bold in admitting his follies and facing the consequences.
Justification for the digressions. In each of the interpolated episodes, Tom emerges as a courageous person. His goodness and selfless courage are a potent force in determining not only his own fate but that of others as well. His good deeds do not go unrewarded either. The people he saved come to his help in his predicaments. Each digression also brings
out a contrast between Tom and the other persons involved. The involvements also help to determine the reader’s attitude towards Tom. Tom comes out as a good person full of generosity. It makes it easier for the reader to sympathize with his weakness. Tom’s instinctive sympathy for humanity, in general, makes us feel that he deserves a reward.
Conclusion. The digressions or interpolations, then, are not entirely without justification. They also give a broader range to the narrative-in keeping with Fielding’s contention that he was writing a ‘comic epic in prose’. They help to stretch out the action and widen the scope of experience embodied in the novel. They also have a thematic relevance.