British Literature

Character Analysis Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding



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By modern standards, Henry Fielding's novel, Joseph Andrews, reads almost like a parody. Rather than maintaining realistic characters, they are described in a mock epic style. They are too extreme in their virtue and vice, too obviously charactetured to be a strictly realistic style or believable. We do not identify with them as we may have done with more well rounded individuals.

Joseph, the hero, is described in a style that sounds more like the introduction to a play than a novel. His entire history (as far as the author claims to credibly know it) is provided, beginning with lineage. This heralds back to the classic works that Fielding sought to emulate. He is described as arising from a dunghill' (very ironic considering the high regard in which he is held), just as the Athenians sprang from the earth.

Indeed, he seems almost to be one of their demigods: the lyrical description depicts a beautiful, tender, virtuous youth. He is both humble and hard working, and appears as almost an encapsulation of the author's ideal Christian.

Mrs. Slipslop sharply contrasts this beautiful image. The diction in her section is courser and more prosaic. She is old, ugly, scheming, the antithesis of all that Joseph represents. She is also a somewhat humorous character: she is ridiculous and amusing. She thinks that because she has been a maiden (which is her qualification for considering herself virtuous) for so long that she can commit any sin she pleases now. Contrastingly, Joseph's dearest possession is his virtue, and he upholds it throughout many temptations.

By giving his character Biblical names, Fielding has instantly created associations between his characters and their Biblical counterparts. These names can reveal characteristics and background without being explicitly explained in the text. It connects the work to something familiar and traditional that is part of our collective consciousness. Without even realizing it, we link the characters to their namesakes.

Joseph's character is aligned with the Old Testament Joseph most famous for his coat of many colours. Yet the differences between the two are as important as the similarities in this case. Both Josephs are separated from their homes and families and work as servants, where both distinguish themselves through their outstanding character. Yet the Biblical Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, whereas the novel's Joseph has only a sister. She is famous for her virtue, and he repeatedly thanks her for her excellent example. Yet his name foreshadows an unfortunate event in Andrew's life: the wife of his master (in the novel's version she is recently widowed) takes a fancy to him and tries to seduce him. When he refuses her, she strips him of his livery (although Fielding later contradicts himself on this point by repeatedly mentioning his livery) and turns him out (in the Bible, he is imprisoned on fake charges of trying to rape her). Both are reduced to the humblest circumstances (Andrews is robbed and beaten), yet their virtue and righteousness provide them with the strength to continue to a better situation than previously enjoyed.

Parson Abraham Adams is an extremely good, albeit nave, man. He is described as without vice, always seeking out the best in people and treating them well. Yet his extreme goodness is also his flawhe cannot account for the failings and dishonesties that mankind is prone too, and so sets himself up to be deceived and disappointed. The Abraham of the Bible presents one of the most powerful and memorable prophets of that sacred book. He received extensive revelations and is regarded as the father of the covenant people. He is remembered for his humility and faith.

In his elderly years, he and his wife still had not had a child, and they greatly desired one. After much pleading with the Lord, they were blessed with Isaac. Yet Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his beloved son on an alter. With incredible faith and submissiveness, Abraham prepared to comply with God's command. This compared directly with God the Father's loss of his beloved son, Jesus Christ. What a powerful namesake to give someone. Yet both could be seen as foolish in their extremity. Both have an excess of blind faith and humble trust.

Fielding is more prone to use general types than particular characters. He uses the traditional stereotypes to tell his tale: the seductive mistress, the rude housemaid who thinks herself higher than her position, the virtuous siblings, the bumbling parson, and so forth. His story feels almost allegorical or parable-like, and these pre-packaged characters lend themselves well to this style. Everyone knows characters similar to these. These generic figures make it easier for him to apply a lesson to all of the readers.

More about this author: Keri Withington

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