Father (Walter Shandy)
The title of the book, Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,
reveals the two identities that Tristram Shandy has in the book . Surprisingly,
the Tristram for whom this story was written makes few appearances, and
when we do see this Tristram,he often appears through the actions and reactions
of another character. We do not see Tristram's life directly, but rather,
accompanying other characters like Trim, his father, his mother, Dr. Slop,
and Toby, etc. For example, we hear of Tristram's nose being crushed only
when his father finds out. Ironically, the narrator spends more time on
his father's reaction to the accident and other's reactions surrounding
Tristram than does he spend with Young Tristram.
This does not mean that we do not get a good look into Tristram Shandy's life. The book is truly about one Tristram Shandy, not the young Tristram Shandy but, rather, the author. Tristram-the-narrator's presence is greatly felt throughout the book. We see into Tristram's life not by the narrator telling about it, but through the views of Tristram-the-author. Through Tristram's many digressions on various topics such as: noses, which are often seen as metaphoric penis, many odd stories on characters like Yorick, and his discussions on different people's HOBBY HORSES we see directly into the life of Tristram Shandy.
Because we see into Tristram's life throughout Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy through Tristram's narration and opinions, we have decided not to link this page to passages on Tristram. Tristram-the-character is insignificant throughout the novel therefore, we have left out links for Tristram. We have instead provided links to other characters and themes in which you may find Tristram-the-author's real identity through his reactions to them.
Uncle Toby, in Tristram Shandy, is known as one of the classic characters in English literature. Uncle Toby is the antithesis of Walter Shandy, Tristram's intellectual father. If Walter Shandy were cold reason, Toby would be hot passion. Compassionate and sympathetic, Toby is the perfect sentimentalist. His dedication to his HOBBY-HORSE, building fortifications and knowledge in military history, is not merely a passion but an obsession. Toby's HOBBY-HORSE is his psychological relief from the anxieties caused by the pains of the wound on his groin received in battle. His over dramatization of different situations provides the perfect contrast to Walter's cold, rational view of them. It is the interaction between these two extremes of human character: reason (Walter) and passion (Toby), that brings out the critics and often comical situations in the Shandian world.
Yorick is the village parson and a friend of the Shandy household. He is an oddly humorous man, with many idiosyncracies. Yorick's unfortunate wit makes many foes. It is important to note that Yorick is often identified as Sterne's self-portrayalč or, more specifically, the public figure of Sterne as a clergyman, while Tristram would be Sterne, the personality. Yorick is a jocular character, who does not care for seriousness and gravity. He mocks serious individualsčonly to anger his enemies. Although he never accepts that a joke can cause animosity, revenge of those who held grudges delivered him to an early grave.
Yorick's quirky behavior, and the tale of his pathetic horse, offer a Cervantic suggestion. Indeed, in his telling of Yorick's story, Sterne makes many allusions to Don Quixote and his horse, Rocinante. Additionally, Yorick is also the name of the dead jester in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Upon going to London, Sterne assumed Yorick's name and behavior.
Father (Walter Shandy)
In comprehending the concept of the HOBBY-HORSE, it is crucial that the reader realize that every main character in Tristram Shandy is dominated by a "ruling passion." Conversely, in order to understand the characters, one must accept the notion of such a life-controlling interest. Walter Shandy is certainly a man governed by such a "ruling passion."
Walter, Tristram's father, has a passionate interest in philosophy and intellectual speculation. In addition to citing the Classics, however obscure, Walter is characterized by his long-winded, erudite dissertations. Some would argue that, in his portrayal of Walter, Sterne challenged pedantic theorizing and hypothesizing that John Locke similarly attacked.
Moreover, Walter is not an enlightened individual when it comes to women. He again follows the classical attitude, treating his wife as his subordinatečrefusing to listen to her or, in effect, communicate with her. This is because he refuses to view her as anything but a stereotypical sentimentalist woman. Furthermore, Walter loathes being interrupted in the midst of one of his garrulous discoursi.
Tristram Shandy's mother is never referred to by her name throughout the whole book. However, from Tristram's description, one can conclude that she is a rational but stubborn woman, not overly passionate but still retaining the female gentility of the time. In the scene where Tristram's father is discussing the matter of getting breeches for Tristram, his mother provides a strong contrast with his father (Vol. VI, Ch. XVIII). The father, the vague intellectual who classifies his wife as the stereotypical sentimentalist female, attempts to convince her why they should get Tristram breeches. However, she is presented as the rational woman who agrees with what her husband has to say, completely distressing Tristram's father. Tristram's father cannot understand why she can take such a matter so coolly because in his mind his wife is the stereotypical sentimentalist woman.
Corporal Trim was a soldier at Namur with Toby. After the war he took it upon himself to be Toby's all encompassing servant. Trim is a kind and gentle man, of much the same demeanor as his "master". He knows just as much about the battles he and Toby study as Toby, and has a greater capacity to resist the temptation of getting carried away. Trim's hobby horse is doing everything Toby does, his main goal is pleasing his companion, friend, and master.
Dr. Slop is the man-midwife. He is a "little, squat, uncourtly figure" of an obstetrician. Readers of the day may have quickly identified Dr. Slop as a satire against Dr. John Burton, a contemporary expert in obstetrics and an enemy of Sterne. However, Burton was not a Catholic, as Slop emphatically is.
Walter champions Slop, no doubt because of the appeal of his pedantic learning. Walter prefers Slop over the midwife, even through Toby's suggestion that his sister "does not care to let a man come so near her ****." Furthermore, Slop places great emphasis on obstetrical instruments, which of course appeals to Walter, but ultimately results in the disfiguration of the infant Tristram's face.
© Copyright 1996 Keith Earley
Back to my homepage