Summary and Analysis Book 3: Chapters 13-20



The midwife, having slipped and hurt her hip, sends for Dr. Slop. He tells Uncle Toby that by means of "******," everything will turn out all right for the Shandy family.

Tristram praises Dr. Slop's "******" — actually, a pause — pointing out that when you have the thing about you, it is more effective to produce it than to name it. Dr. Slop is searching around in his bag for it, and when he pulls out the forceps, the forceps pull out a syringe. Uncle Toby takes his advantage and says, "Good God! . . . are children brought into the world with a squirt?"

In a demonstration of the forceps, Uncle Toby's hands are skinned, and "you have crush'd all my knuckles . . . to a jelly." Walter wishes that Dr. Slop would extract the child by his feet rather than by his head. Discussion follows between Dr. Slop and the midwife about which part of the foetus is showing, his hip or his head. Walter and Dr. Slop talk about the dangers to both parts from the forceps; "When your possibility has taken place at the hip, — you may as well take off the head too," Walter says glumly.

Time has passed and Walter and Toby are sitting in the parlor alone. Walter is about to lecture on Duration when Toby takes the wind out of his sails by giving the exact answer to Walter's rhetorical question. To Walter's chagrin, Toby doesn't understand it at all, and he isn't interested in understanding it. Conversation ceases.

Tristram feels that the loss of Walter's conjecture about time and eternity is a great one: "by the ashes of my dear Rabelais, and dearer Cervantes," it was a "discourse devoutly to be wished for!"

Walter and Toby, gazing at the fire, fall asleep. Everyone is accounted for, sleeping or busy elsewhere. Tristram now has a moment to spare, and he writes his Preface. The Preface, lengthy and full of Shandean extravagance, deals chiefly with Locke's Wit and Judgment; like the knobs on the back of his chair, they go together. Locke — and anyone else who shares his view — was wrong to think that the one (Judgment) was more important than the other.


Events continue to conspire against the child: Dr. Slop has been called into service with his forceps. We get some idea of the dangers facing the babe from the demonstration on Toby's clenched hands and the discussion of hips and heads.

The author toys again with rhetorical devices, using asterisks to catch our attention and giving Toby the chance to make fun of Dr. Slop and his forceps. The beginning of Chapter 14 shows the author's skillful use of omission; we figure out from Uncle Toby's complaint about his skinned hands and crushed knuckles that a demonstration has taken place.

The Lockean concept of Duration, which Walter pompously and elaborately paraphrases, is that "men derive their ideas of duration from their reflection on the train of ideas they observe to succeed one another in their own understandings." It is a basic part of Tristram's method of presenting his story; together with the "psychology of the train of ideas," it enables Tristram to break away from the conventional scheme of temporal and spatial reporting.

Again, Toby squelches Walter's oratory. Although Tristram says he regrets the loss of the discourse, he is being ironic: Walter's learned jargon is no better than that of the many other authorities that Tristram pokes fun at.

The mention of Rabelais and Cervantes points up their importance to the author; there are many references to both of these writers' works, and there are paraphrases, parodies, adaptations, and skillful imitations of some of their stories and motifs scattered throughout Tristram Shandy.

Although it was once a popular thing to accuse Sterne of plagiarism, close examination will show that whatever ideas he borrowed he reworked so that they are uniquely his own.

When Tristram says "All my heroes are off my hands," and he is finally free enough to write his Preface — another misplaced item — we have the stage director completely undisguised. Although he pushes them around gently, has them go offstage, or makes them go to sleep, he manages to give the impression that they are real individuals who are capable of getting in his way and thwarting his plans.

His Preface, intended as a corrective to Locke's preference for judgment over wit, shows his continued involvement with philosophical matters. Tristram is on his own business, talking to the more intellectual members of his audience; the Shandys and their problems have been put aside.