In Fielding’s Joseph Andrews you see a variety of characters. They range from the shallow, vain and proud characters like Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop to the innocent, sincere, and virtuous like Joseph and Fanny. The presence of Lady Booby, and all of the people like her that are portrayed in the same selfish and dishonest way, bring out the importance of the clergy. Most of the clergy that we meet in the story don’t fit our vision of “holy people”. They didn’t fit Fielding’s vision either. Parson Adams is the only character that represents what Fielding considers to be the proper role for the clergy. He believes that the proper role for the clergy is that they should give moral guidance and they should be virtuous and charitable.
There are many examples of charity made by Parson Adams because Fielding believes that charity is part of the proper role for the clergy. But I think that Adams will stand out more if I show how uncharitable the rest of the characters are. While at The Dragon Inn, Joseph meets Mr. and Mrs. Tow-wouse. Mr. Tow-wouse is the owner of the inn and for his brief presence in the book he is good-natured, unlike his wife who is greedy and very uncharitable. When her husband gets a shirt to clothe naked Joseph she states, “Common charity teaches us to provide for ourselves and our families; and I and mine won’t be ruined by your charity, I assure you” (93).
Later on, Joseph meets Mr. Barnabas. He is a clergyman but a disgrace when compared to Adams. Adams’ office as a clergyman is important because “no other office could have given him so many opportunities of displaying his worthy inclinations” (95). Barnabas is sent to Joseph’s room in the inn to comfort him because he has been severely and is expected to die. But Barnabas is more interested in punch than his duties. Even the servant, Betty, is more charitable than the parson.
Even though it is his job to set a good example and forgive other people for their sins, he is just a drunk who is also in need of being saved and forgiven. Adams shows up at the inn, greatly concerned for Joseph’s health and safety, and such uncharitable people surround him that one cannot help but notice his sincere and caring nature. Adams gives Joseph the little money that he has, even though it is not enough.
He is not aware of the economics of everyday life, but it his gesture to give his friend all of his money that makes him such a great person. He believes that an honest mind would rather lose money by conveying good instructions to mankind than gain by propagating evil. It is easy to compare the good and the bad clergymen in these couple chapters because they are almost standing side by side. It is very clear that Fielding chooses Adams to take on the proper role as a parson.
Adams and Joseph travel on but stop at another inn for the night. It is in this chapter that we see the first of many fistfights. The hostess cares for Joseph but her husband scolds her for wasting time. She is very much like Betty back at the other inn. Neither one of them are perfect but they have a sense of charm that puts them on a higher pedestal than the rich snobby people that reappear later in the story. But the host of the inn begins to fight after a remark by Adams about the host’s very little humanity.
The fight is settled and a gentleman sitting nearby suggests that they should take out a suit against the host. But Adams admits that it’s his fault because he threw the first punch. The gentleman encourages Joseph to lie for Adams because he’s the only witness. But Adam’s is too honest to get mixed up in a lie, especially when he started it. He owns up to the responsibility for the fight even though he could have gotten some money out of it. It is rare to find a person that would be so horrified at the thought of lying. But Adams is not like a lot of the other people in the book, especially the other clergymen. He preaches about the importance of active virtue and is too sincere and genuine to be put on the same level as the rest of the clergymen in the book.
After they leave the inn, Adams insists that Joseph ride in the coach. But Joseph wants Adams to have the comfort and Mrs. Grave-airs won’t have a footman riding in the same coach as her anyways. Adams gets in the coach and they travel for a while and then switch. Adams is so pleased to get Joseph into the coach. He is not selfish and insists that Joseph rides in comfort and he will ride the horse. After a few complications, Adams ends up three miles behind the rest of his party and takes advice from a gentleman to stay the night at an inn. But on his way there he hears a woman shrieking and immediately goes to help while the gentleman runs away cowardly.
Adams rescues the woman but fears the in the process he thinks he has killed the man that was assaulting her. He thanks God for sending him to rescue the woman and he relies on the goodness of his intentions to excuse him for hurting the other man. “He doubted not but Providence had sent him to her Deliverance, as a Reward for that Trust” (162). He puts all his faith in God and, besides his forgetfulness, fits the perfect picture of a parson. He regrets killing the man which shows even more compassion and concern than before. “He wished indeed he had not deprived the wicked Wretch of Life, but God’s Will be done” (162).
The reunion of Fanny and Joseph brings out the truly charitable nature of Adams because he finds joy in the happiness of others. Even though he doesn’t benefit from their love personally, he is delighted that they are going to be happy together for the rest of their lives. But in contrast to this we are reminded of Slipslop and Lady Booby and their jealousy of Fanny.
Fielding also believes that it is necessary for a clergyman to give moral guidance. Throughout the book Adams inspired Joseph by his sermons. He tells Joseph and Fanny not to get married right away, and they listen. Adams stresses the importance of publishing the banns and that they need to be patient for a little while longer. He wants everything to be done traditionally and he insists on the proper rites and forms for the wedding.
Parson Trulliber makes his appearance in chapter fourteen. He is more of a farmer than a clergyman and thinks that Adams is at his house to buy some of his hogs. But once Trulliber finds out that Adams is in need money he calls him a vagabond and will not help him. Trulliber is most incompetent parson we meet in Joseph Andrews. He only cares about worldly possessions and is entirely ignorant of the meaning of charity. He tells Adams, “I know what charity is, better than to give it to vagabonds” (185).
Adams replies by saying, “I must tell you, if you trust to your Knowledge for you Justification, you will find yourself deceived, though you should add Faith to it without good Works” (185). Adams stands behind everything that he tells Trulliber and believes it wholeheartedly. He tells Trulliber that he is sorry to see such men in religious orders and leaves. Adams practices charity throughout the book but when he needs some money, he receives no help from his fellow clergymen. Instead, he is insulted by his appearance. Trulliber is very much like Barnabas. Both men ignore the importance of good works.
There are two kinds of clergymen in Joseph Andrews. There are the uncharitable, corrupt, and unfaithful parsons like Trulliber and Barnabas. These characters are very hypocritical and obsessed with worldly possessions. They are supposed to be leaders of faith but instead come off as two of the most appalling characters in the book. But in contrast to the rest of the clergymen, Parson Adams is extremely charitable and honest. He and Joseph always act on their beliefs and defend them by any force necessary.
Fanny and Joseph are morally superior characters, but they are still characters. Adams emerges as an individual. He gave Joseph and Fanny moral guidance any time they needed it and he puts his principals of charity into practice. “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). In Fielding’s mind the role for the proper clergyman is to be honest, give moral guidance, and at all times be charitable.