The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy - Volume 2 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 31 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
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Volume 2 Summary

Tristam makes good with his promise, continuing with the theme of his Uncle Toby. He explains that his father gave Toby a room in his house while he recovered from his groin injury. Tristram's father brought many friends and acquaintances to the house to inquire about the battle and Toby's injury. Unfortunately, the battle was so complex that Toby finds it impossible to recount his tale accurately. In the end he decides that knowing where and how he became injured is an important part of his recovery. He buys a map and uses it to plan out all his old battles. Toby becomes so obsessed that he reads countless books, studying such facts as the projectile of a cannonball.

Toby goes about his new hobbyhorse with little thought to his injury, but feeling more alive, he suddenly decides he has to get better. After passively taking the doctors word for so long Toby now, to the doctors shock, virtually commands the doctor to cure his groin. After only a period of six weeks, Toby is better. At this point Toby's servant, Trim, joins the story. Toby and Trim are actually great friends, and Trim, seeing his friend so full of life again, suggests they move to the country and to a space where they can recreate battle scenes. Toby excitedly agrees and states his intention of writing a history book.

Tristram then returns to a scene from the previous volume where Toby and his father wait for Tristram's birth. The servant Susannah has fetched the mid-wife and now Tristram's father orders his other servant Obadiah to fetch Dr. Slop. In Obadiah's absence, Tristram's father becomes annoyed at Toby's ignorance of women and is just about to put him right when the Dr. arrives. Unfortunately, Dr. Slop has no medicine bag, and Obadiah has to go back to get the bag.

At this point, the men have an argument about science, and Tristram's father insults Uncle Toby. However, they soon make up and Toby, to show he feels no hard feelings, continues with what caused the argument in the first place. Toby shows his appreciation for the engineer Stevinus and Trim brings in a copy of Stevinus' book. When Trim shakes the book, a copy of a sermon falls out, which Toby and Tristram's father encourage Trim to read aloud. Trim reads the sermon eloquently, though Dr. Slop, a protestant, shows offense at some of the details.

Oblidiah returns with the medicine bag just as the sermon finishes. This prompts the men to talk about child birth and the problems that can occur. Tristrram's father worries his wife's pelvis will crush his son's head, and he explains he once suggested a cesarean. However, his wife went white at such a prospect, so she is having a normal birth. Dr. Slop assures the company that medicine has made great advances, particularly in delivering babies.

Volume 2 Analysis

The second volume opens the theme of hobbies. Tristram thinks hobbies are essential to a man's life and particularly someone like Toby, who is an injured soldier. Here Tristram details how Toby's hobby saves his life. He explains Toby did not start getting better until he found something that could replace his much-loved life as a soldier. Tristram does not limit this theme to Toby but gives all the main characters a hobby. Tristram's father develops a hobby writing an educational book; the servant Trim shares Toby's hobby, and Tristram's hobby is writing this very novel. The importance he places on such past-times foreshadows the problems later on that occur when their hobbies are defunct. The reader hears what happens to Toby when his war is over and then how he relives his glorious past, but he also shows the reader the opposite effect in the final volume. When the war is over for real, Toby's hobby becomes pointless, leading Tristram to suggest that the only way to solve his boredom is through marrying the Widow Wadham. This suggestion of marriage as a mere hobby again highlights Tristram's distrust of formality.

In fact, the whole book attempts to completely do away with formality and convention. In this volume, Tristram shows this by first taking the reader away from the original subject of his birth and relating a tale about his Uncle. He interrupts this tale to write a short discourse on the writer John Locke before suddenly deciding to go back to the parlor where Toby and his father wait for the announcement of his birth. Rather than talk about the coming of a newborn baby, the men argue about philosophy and other sciences. Tristram's father worries about potential damage to his son's head, but in such a philosophical way, the reader begins to wonder if Tristram's father just enjoys spouting his opinions. This foreshadows the book that Tristram's father writes later on how to educate Tristram. He spends so much time writing the book and reading aloud passages to his friends, he ends up neglecting Tristram.

Such pontificating is a characteristic of all the men in the story, including Tristram. The narrator gets away with it because of his self-awareness, but at the same time, he regards it as a virtue. In this volume, Trim reads a serious sermon, but the men's interest in the sermon seems to be more in the books phrasing and Trim's eloquent recital, rather than any deeper meaning.

This section contains 903 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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