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Joseph Andrews: A comparison of characters

Of the myriad of characters that the reader encounters throughout Henry Fielding's eighteenth-century satirical novel, Joseph Andrews, Parson Adams and Joseph Andrews himself are by far the most memorable. Their encounters and misadventures form the core of the novel's experience. Throughout the novel, their personalities are revealed by their interactions with the other characters and with each other. Being best of friends, they share many characteristics. They devote themselves to God, rise above their peers in moral character, and posses greater learning than their peers. Their friendship does not prevent them from contrasting with each other on several points, however. They differ in their views of schools and their gullibility.

The first and most notable characteristic that Joseph Andrews and Parson Adams share is their devotion to God. Such devotion is clearly evident in Adams, not only because of his position as a clergyman but also in his actions. During an episode in which Joseph and Adams are in great danger, Adams' devotion to God is proven. "Adams now fell on his Knees, and committed himself to the Care of Providence," (206). Joseph is likewise devoted to God. Believing he is about to die, Joseph says, "Poor Fanny, I would I could have lived to see thee! but God’s Will be done," (94). Despite his singular obsession with Fanny, he still settles himself to the wishes of God, making his devotion clear.

Throughout their adventures in the countryside of England, Joseph and Adams rise above their peers in moral character. Despite temptations and forces goading them towards an ill deed, they preserve in their morality and ultimately benefit from such resistance. Joseph Andrews, in the beginning of the novel, shows his moral character when he refuses to be seduced by Lady Booby. After she repeatedly attempts to bring him into her bed, she tells him in a frustrated manner, "I find I was mistaken in you, so get you down Stairs, and never let me see your Face again: your pretended Innocence cannot impose on me," (71). His refusal to compromise his moral standards in incidents such as this is made clear by Fielding. Parson Adams also posses great moral character. When he comes to the house of a fellow parson asking for a much-needed loan that he intends to repay in all honesty, he is flatly denied on the grounds that a clergyman shouldn't be traveling about the country as the parson is doing. Adams responds, "but suppose I am not a Clergyman, I am nevertheless thy Brother, and thou, as a Christian, much more as a Clergyman, art obliged to relieve my Distress," (185). When he is once again denied, Adams criticizes the man for not following the Scriptures.

If I may reason from your Practice: for their Commands are so explicit, and their Rewards and Punishments so immense, that it is impossible a Man should steadfastly believe without obeying. Now, there is no Command more express, no Duty more frequently enjoined than Charity. Whoever therefore is void of Charity, I make no scruple of pronouncing that he is no Christian. (185)
Through his keen observation, Adams reveals the man to be immoral, and shows Adams' own moral character to rise above that of the man.

Both Joseph and Adams are educated compared to their peers. Adams most clearly possesses great learning. It is an integral part of his character. In the beginning of the book, a vivid description is given.

Mr. Abraham Adams was an excellent Scholar. He was a perfect Master of the Greek and Latin Languages; to which he added a great Share of Knowledge in the Oriental Tongues, and could read and translate French, Italian, and Spanish. He applied many years to most sever Study, and had treasured up a Fund of Learning rarely to be met with in a University. (65)
In comparison to the normal citizen of the time, Adams seems to be a great deal more intelligent. The first meeting between Adams and Joseph depends upon Joseph's similar aptitude for learning compared to similar people his age. After questioning Joseph about several subjects, Adams declares that, "he answer’d much better than Sir Thomas, or two other neighbouring Justices of the Peace could probably have done," (65). Both Joseph and Adams are learned compared to the other characters they meet in the novel.

Despite their many similarities, Adams and Joseph differ on several points. One of them is their view on schools. The essential debate comes down to the quality of British public schools. Joseph Andrews throws his support towards public schools.

You know, my late Master, Sir Thomas Bobby, was bred at a public School, and he was the finest Gentleman in all the Neighbourhood. And I have often heard him say, if he had a hundred Boys he would breed them all at the same Place. (237)
Adams holds an entirely different opinion on this matter, however, which coincides with his position as a clergyman and his devotion to God. "Public Schools are the Nurseries of all Vice and Immorality. All the wicked Fellows whom I remember at the University were bread at them," (236). Joseph's willingness to contest Adams’ opinions shows that they must differ in some ways.

The simplicity of Adams' character is evident in his gullibility compared to Joseph. During one episode, they are promised various extravagant offers by a gentlemen who pretends to be sympathetic to their plight. After giving several excuses that prevent him from following through on his promise, Adams still doesn’t understand the situation. "This must be a sudden Accident, as the Sickness or Death of a Relation, or some such unforeseen Misfortune," (193). Adams honestly believes that the man had intentions of honoring his promises. Joseph is less gullible, and realizes that the man has been playing with them. "For whenever a Man of Fashion doth not care to fulfil his promises, the Custom is, to order his Servants that he will never be at home to the Person so promised," (193). Joseph sees through the lies he is being told and falls back upon his greater experience of the world than Adams.

Throughout Joseph Andrews, the relationship between Adams and Joseph forms an important element of the story. Their great friendship brings them through difficult times and benefits them both. This friendship is composed of both their similarities, which help them get along, and their differences, which allow each of them to expand the other's world view. The relationship would not be as dynamic without the interaction derived from these similarities and differences. In comparison, they devote themselves to God, rise above their peers in moral character, and posses greater learning than their peers. In contrast, they differ in their views of schools and their gullibility.

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