Tristram Shandy By Laurence Sterne Summary and Analysis Book 3: Chapters 1-6

Summary

Uncle Toby repeats his wish about their seeing the "prodigious armies" in Flanders, but nobody sees the point. Dr. Slop is so dumfounded that Walter steps in to question the purpose of the wish: " — What prodigious armies you had in Flanders!" And as he says that, he removes his wig to mop his brow. He removes his wig with his right hand and reaches for his handkerchief with his left hand. Unfortunately, the handkerchief is in his right-hand pocket.

He twists and wiggles, trying to reach his right pocket with his left hand, and the "transverse zig-zaggery" reminds Toby of a maneuver at Namur. He is about to send Trim for the map, but a look at Walter's face dissuades him. Instead, he sits patiently until Walter somehow manages to get the handkerchief.

Walter begins again. At one time, people were content if children managed to be born any which way; they paid no attention to the danger to their brains. Toby rejects the idea that the dangers are greater now than before and that people were all born with damaged brains merely because the forceps had not been invented.

Analysis

Toby's "wish" was an anticipation of Dr. Slop's hobby-horse notion that forceps were the answer to everything; Dr. Slop was about to say that he didn't understand how people managed to get born, and Toby said that the armies in Flanders had many men in them. His commonsense attitude stands out in sharp contrast to both Dr. Slop's and Walter's fixation about the delicacy of the brain; he whistles "Lillabullero" when Walter suggests that people born naturally, without help of forceps, are mentally defective. Uncle Toby obviously thinks faster than we give him credit for.

The scenes in which Walter reaches for his handkerchief with the wrong hand may seem to be merely humorous trivia; they are that, but they serve another important purpose as well. All he had to do was put his wig back on his head, take it off with his left hand, and take his handkerchief from his right pocket with his right band. But not Walter Shandy. This is the physical counterpart of his intellectual gymnastics: everything is twisted around as needed to fit in with his hypotheses, and once he sets out with his left hand, he intends to succeed. Somehow he manages to, but the process is unnatural, Tristram suggests.

Walter's movements are described so that we can imagine every second of the contortions and feel the ridiculousness of the situation.

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