Why Humphry Clinker?

Learning that Humphry Clinker, the character the entire novel is named after, does not have any letters throughout the book made me consider the role his character plays in this story.  While we learn that Humphry has no family to write to and is very poor and perhaps uneducated, I believe that Smollett still could have written him in if he so desired; This realization lead me to wonder why the apparent star of this book is only described to us through other characters. 

The image the reader gains of Humphry Clinker is different from each persons description of him.  Winifred simply describes exactly what she sees on the surface, without making any assumptions about what that means for Humphry as a person.  Tabitha, on the other hand, jumps to extreme conclusions about Humphry and dismisses him immediately based on what he is wearing.  Matthew Bramble initially judges Humphry but then gives him an opportunity to explain himself and Jery provides a description that explains Humphry physically and from a medical point of view.  These differing descriptions reveal more about each character than they do about Humphry himself.  But again, beg the question of why Humphry is there and what he represents. 

I think Humphry not only represents a class that none of the travelers are in (extreme poverty versus riches) but also represents a class and lifestyle that none of them are able to relate to or understand.  Even Winifred, who is just a servant/maid, is better dressed and presumably more educated than Humphry.  Humphry’s presence in the story and in the family’s life presents a challenge to both Humphry and Matthew Bramble’s family as they learn more about each other and change through the process.  I would expect that by the end of this novel, all characters will have come to a new understanding of each other and will have grown from their judgmental first impressions. 


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