Thematic Development of Joseph Andrews from the First Two Books, and Elements of the Picaresque Novel


Introduction to Joseph Andrews

Joseph Andrews was written by Henry Fielding; the famous novelist and a dramatist, published in 1742. It is all about mocking a little book called Pamela by Samuel Richardson. Fielding portrayed Joseph Andrews as the brother of Pamela Andrews (the heroine of Richardson's novel) who preserves her chastity amid great temptations.

Thematic Development

In the 18th century, Augustan society was of the view that observation reason and application of satire could be used for promoting knowledge. Fielding depicted human nature as it existed in all strata of society, through his characters in a realistic manner. The themes which have been discussed in the first two books of Joseph Andrews have been overviewed below.

The Theme of Charity

A major theme of Joseph Andrews is that charity is the mark of a true Christian. In the first two books, characters, somehow, seem to be promoting charity and lacking at the same time in their way. Here Adams seems to promote charity, he is poor yet open-handed while Joseph Andrews often becomes the victim of people's lack of charity. For example, he is fired from his job by Lady Booby for refusing to sleep with her, and when he is beaten within an inch of his life by robbers on the road. He is saved by some people in a stagecoach only because they fear getting sued. Moreover, Mrs. Tow Wouse gets angry when she comes to know that Joseph is penniless and doesn't let him enter the Inn instead of his pathetic condition. The doctor who was called for curing Joseph also refused to cure him because he was penniless. Fielding distinguishes the mere formal profession of Christian doctrines and that active charity which he considers true Christianity; as Adams says to greedy and uncharitable Parson Trulliber, 

"Whoever therefore is void of charity, I make no scruple of pronouncing that he is no Christian."

The Theme of Chastity

Fielding has a fundamentally positive attitude towards sex; he prefers that people's sexual conduct be by what they owe to God, each other, and themselves. Joseph Andrews is an embodiment of physical chastity. Although he loves Fanny and they both want to be intimate but they keep themselves chaste waiting for their marriage. While he was attempted to be seduced by Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop but he preserves his purity. He was also seduced by the maid Betty in the inn but he remains moral and virgin, then, at the end of Book I, she was caught in bed with the owner of the inn who was already married.

Corruption Increases along Class Lines

In the novel, the upper classes—called the high people or fashionable people—are consistently portrayed as immoral, while the low people, or people with no fashion, are mostly portrayed as moral.  For example, the villains of the upper-class rob Joseph and beat him leaving him in the lurch naked. Another corrupt magistrate (the judges were always from the upper classes) almost throws Fanny and Parson Adams in jail on false charges. An evil squire of the upper classes and Beau Didapper, a patrician dandy, attempt to rape Fanny Goodwill and assume they can do so with impunity.

Affectation, Vanity, and Hypocrisy

Element is affectation is apparent. Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop pretend to be pious but in reality, they don't practice this thing. Parson Adams is sometimes ridiculous because of his vanity throughout the novel. It is demonstrated through the belief of his extension amount of knowledge. It is by this knowledge that he judges others and is judged. Adams believes that he is superior to those who lack his knowledge especially in Chapter17 of Book II. He advocates reading and learning as the necessities of life while in the end his words are thrown back on his face by the inn-keeper. The inn-keeper states that the one thing that can be told about a man by his face is whether or not he has smallpox. 

Socially and Morally Fractured Society

This theme develops when Joseph was beaten almost died by robbers on the road to London. He was saved by some people in a stagecoach only because they fear getting sued. Those people had enough clothes to give Joseph but they didn't, because of the fear of getting stained with blood drops Joseph. Similarly, When Joseph was brought to Mr. Tow Wouse Inn and the doctor told them that there is no possibility of his survival, they called a Parson according to Christian teachings but he didn't pay any heed to Joseph, he was impatient just for drinking vine. This shows the miserableness of society.

Joseph Andrews as a Picaresque Novel

Picaresque derives from Spanish Picaresco, which means "of or relating to a picaro." What is a picaro? This word, which also derives from Spanish, means "rogue" or "bohemian." "Picaro" describes a type of character that has long been a popular subject for fictional narrative. Typically, the picaresque novel centers around a wandering individual of low standing who happens into a series of adventures among people of various higher classes, often relying on his wits and a little dishonesty to get by.

The elements of the picaresque novel which have been found in Joseph Andrews are discussed below.

  • In the picaresque novel, the main character often belongs to a low social class. Similarly, in this novel Joseph (the hero) belongs to a poor class family. 
  • A picaresque novel is always in episodes that are comic in tone. Joseph Andrews is divided into four books which have been further divided into chapters.
  • Another element of the picaresque novel is the use of digressions. Leonora's story is discussed in the second book, which is neither connected with the main story nor with the themes.
  • In the picaresque novel, the hero always meets different tragedies throughout his journey. The same thing happens to Joseph Andrews, he faces different tragedies on his way and has different people in different communities.
  • The picaresque novel satirizes the social conditions, so does Joseph Andrews. Henry Fielding satirizes different aspects of his time, like affectation, vanity, hypocrisy. The pretentious nature of the characters is satirized, their inhuman behaviors and the lack of charity is satirized, as Joseph was beaten and left naked on the road, nobody was ready to help him.


  • Joseph Andrews is a picaresque novel as it deals with the journey of Joseph and Parson Adams traveling from London to Lady Booby's estate. The journey is the most important element of the picaresque novel.


Fielding has very beautifully presented the socially and morally paralyzed English society of the 18th century. It is difficult to differentiate who is truly virtuous, charitable, chaste, knowledgeable, just, etc. And who merely pretends to be. people's actions don't match their speech. Throughout the novel, Joseph remains pure and virgin.

Joseph Andrews is a picaresque novel as it has all those features which a novel need to be a picaresque i.e. journey, adventures of the hero, lower social class hero and digression, etc.


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