The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is most definitely centered around the growth and change of its main character, Tom Sawyer. Tom Sawyer, the focal point of the novel, lives in St. Petersburg, Missouri with his half-brother Sid, and his Aunt Polly.
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The general plot proceeds as follows: Tom goes to the graveyard with Huckleberry Finn, the son of a drunken townsman after everyone has gone to sleep, to try a supposed cure for warts. At the graveyard, they encounter the murdering of Dr. Robinson, the morally ambiguous town physician, by the Native-American Injun Joe. Fearfull, Tom and Huckleberry Finn flee and swear not to tell anyone what they saw. Injun Joe blames, Muff Potter, a naive drunk, for the murder and she is wrongfully jailed. Tom’s friend Joe Harper, Huck, and Tom run away to an island and become pirates and they realize the town is searching the river for their bodies. Regretting the decision to run away, the boys fabricate an idea to appear at their funeral and surprise everyone. After the rejoice of the boys returning, Muff Potter’s trial begins. Overcome by guilt, Tom testifies against Injun Joe and Potter gets acquitted, then Injun escapes through the courtroom window. During the summer, Tom and Huck decide to go search for buried treasure in a haunted house and see Injun Joe enter in disguise. Seeing that Injun Joe is in possession of stolen gold, he naturally stalks Injun every night. Meanwhile, during a school trip, Becky (a girl that Tom has had a mad crush on for some time) and Tom get lost in a cave. They run across Injun Joe in the cave and manage to escape secretly while Injun Joe gets locked inside, starving to death.
The main characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are Tom himself, Huckleberry Finn, and Injun Joe. Tom is an imaginative and mischievous boy who constantly finds himself in and out of trouble. He serves as the novel’s protagonist and matures into a leadership role, taking on more and more responsibility as the novel progresses. Huckleberry Finn is the son of a drunk and a social outcast shunned by the community but loved by the boys, who envy his freedom. Huck is, like Tom, very superstitious and mischievous, always ready for an adventure. Huckleberry Finn serves as one of the novel’s supporting characters. Violent, villainous, and vengeful, Injun Joe is the novel’s main antagonist committing crimes such as robbery, and murder. Injun Joe suffered exclusion based on his half Native-American half Caucasian ethnic background, giving him the motive to commit his crimes.
One major theme of the novel is how hypocritical society is. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain criticizes the adult word where Tom is headed and exposes the childishness of social institutions such as church, school, and the law. Twain illustrates how the seemingly childish games the children play, are in fact quite conventional. Tom reads about pirates, Robin Hood, and circus clowns and therefore has a very conventional understanding of the classification of these types of people. He expresses this when he outlines the criteria that define fictional types of characters.
‘I been to the circus three or four times lots of times. Church ain’t shucks to a circus. There’s things going on at a circus all the time. I’m going to be a clown in a circus when I grow up.’
In fact, some would say that Twain’s characters, especially tom, convey an addiction to conventionality. This theme suggests that the adult world isn’t very different from the childish games Tom, Huck and his friends play.
Another theme portrayed by The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is that to achieve true freedom, one must go through some form of social exclusion. Twain’s biggest example of this theme is embodied by Huckleberry Finn. Huck is seen as lucky and adored by all the schoolboys because of the freedom his low social status affords him. Twain uses Huck to illlustrate the transcendentalist belief that material possessions never lead you down the path of happiness as Huck rarely has enough food to eat or a place to sleep, but can do all the things other boys dream of. Huck is an example of how the lack of material possessions allows you the freedom to do what makes you the happiest.
I often wish that, as a child, I could have been as cunning as the title character of Mark Twain’s The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer. With his acumen, I could have avoided painting fences in the summer heat, could have romped with friends from dawn to dusk, and could have recurrently landed on my feet, so to speak, when in trouble.
As tempting as it is to do so, though, understanding Tom
Sawyer as nothing but a carefree, easygoing boy is far too simplistic to do when considering the complexities of Twain’s well-known novel. Despite its veneer as a mere chronicling of childish antics, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer actually presents its young protagonist much like a colonial subject pinned in an oppressive adult society.
This is an excerpt from a criticism written by Banjamin David Batzer about the dynamic between childhood and adulthood. Further supporting the theme of society’s hypocrisy.
He ‘pears to know just how long he can torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows if he can make out to put me off for a minute or make me laugh, it’s all down again and I can’t hit him a lick. I ain’t doing my duty by that boy, and that’s the Lord’s truth, goodness knows. Spare the rod and spile the child, as the Good Book says. I’m a laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know.
This quote expresses Tom’s childishness at the beginning of the novel. Of all characters written in fiction over the years, Tom Sawyer is one of the most dynamic, changing from beginning to end. We follow a portion of Tom’s life as he makes the transition from childhood to adulthood; from naive to mature. Represented by Tom’s decision to testify against Injun Joe at the end of the novel, Tom’s maturity grew tremendously from when he first encountered Injun Joe killing Dr. Robinson. When he first saw Injun Joe he was terrified and anxious and at the end, he finally gathers enough maturity to face his fear, stand up and testify.
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