Major themes in this novel are communication, cause-and-effect, and time.

A primary barrier to communication is what Sterne calls a hobbyhorse; a character is so focused on a topic or behavior that he is dominated and nearly defined by it. Walter Shandy's obsession is theorizing, with little, if any awareness of reality, of the consequences of his theory, or of its effect on others. My uncle Toby's hobbyhorse is obvious–military strategy, battles, and his bowling-green battlefield. Corporal Trim's hobbyhorse is the pleasure of hearing himself talk, and Dr.Slop's hobbyhorse is Catholicism.

Another barrier to communication is the association of ideas which often carries the speaker, including the narrator, off on his hobbyhorse. As Dr. Slop is praising the forceps in making deliveries safer, Toby interrupts with the wish that Dr. Slop "had seen what prodigious armies we had in Flanders" (II, xviii, 115, III, i, 125, 126; III, vi, 129). When Trim reads the sermon, the reference to the Inquisiton makes him think of his brother, imprisoned by the Inquisition in Portugal; his belief that the sermon is describing the torments of his brother distresses him profoundly.

Full communication does occur, though not with language. Undeniably, the Shandy brothers have different views and often do not understand one another in conversation; Walter loses his temper at Toby's hobbyhorse, and Toby covers his disagreement and occasional disapproval of Walter's theories by smoking his pipe vigorously and, as a last recourse, whistling Lillabullero.

Nevertheless, they do communicate, and they communicate through emotion. They share feelings; each loves the other and perceives that he is loved in return. Their closeness is reflected in their companionableness; note how they smoke their pipes together and doze together. They are secure in their relationship with each other, as the following exchange shows; Toby notes, with satisfaction, "the best friends in the world may differ sometimes.–True,–brother Toby, quoth my father, shaking hands with him,–we'll fill our pipes, brother, and then Trim shall go on" (II, xvii, 106). They are able to communicate and to maintain their relationship through their consideration and love for each other. After Walter insults Toby's hobby horse, Toby

look'd up into my father's face, with a countenance spread over with so much good nature;–so placid;–so fraternal;–so inexpressibly tender toward him;–it penetrated my father to his heart: He rose up hastily from his chair, and seizing hold of both my uncle Toby's hands as he spoke:–Brother Toby, said he, –I beg thy pardon; forgive, I pray thee, this rash humor which my mother gave me.–My dear, dear brother, answer'd my uncle Toby, rising up by my father's help, say no more about it;–you are heartily welcome, had it been ten times as much, brother. But ‘tis ungenerous, replied my father, to hurt any man;–a brother worse;–but to hurt a brother of such gentle manners,–so unprovoking,–and so unresenting;–‘tis base:–By heaven, ‘tis cowardly.–You are heartily welcome, brother, quoth my uncle Toby–had it been fifty times as much.–Besides, what have I to do, my dear Toby, cried my father, either with your amusements or your pleasures, unless it was in my power (which it is not) to increase their measure?
     Brother Shandy, answer'd my uncle Toby, looking wistfully in his face,–you are much mistaken in this point; for you do increase my pleasure very much, in begetting children for the Shandy Family at your time of life (II, xii, 92).
This passage is filled with expressions of their consideration of each other and desire not to hurt the other–Walter's contrite apologies and his helping his brother up from his chair, Toby's reassurances and his pleasure in his brother's family, their manifest affection for each other. When Walter is stricken by the crushing of Tristram's nose, Toby helps him to his bedroom and sits by him in quiet sympathy.

The affection and the respect Toby and Trim have for each other enable them to be friends, despite their hobbyhorses. When Trim suggests creating a miniature battlefield, Toby is immediately eager to begin, but Trim keeps talking and talking despite Toby's repeated interruptions that he understands.


The disjunction between cause and effect form part of the irrationality and randomness of life. The Shandy marriage settlement results in Tristram's nose being flattened at birth. Walter develops a theory of childbirth which results in his employing the man-midwife, Dr. Slop. Walter's habit of winding the clock the first of the month has unforseeable and, in Walter's eyes, tragic consequences in Tristram's begetting.


Day 11 (W, Oct. 9) Sterne, Tristram Shandy
   Books I and II
   A Few General Remarks
Day 12 (W, Oct. 16) Sterne, Tristram Shandy;
  &nbspBook III,
   Book IV, Chapters 10-14, 31
   The Organization of Tristram Shandy
   Major Themes in Tristram Shandy
Day 13 (M, Oct. 21) Sterne, Tristram Shandy
   BookV, Chapters 2- 14, 31
   Book IX, Chapters 18-33
   Time in Tristram Shandy

October 13, 2004