Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910)
-better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has since been called the Great American Novel, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He is extensively quoted. During his lifetime, Twain became a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.
Twain enjoyed immense public popularity, and his keen wit and incisive satire earned him praise from both critics and peers. Upon his death he was lauded as the "greatest American humorist of his age," and William Faulkner called Twain "the father of American literature".
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Plot and structure:
An imaginative and mischievous boy named Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother, Sid. After playing hooky from school on Friday and dirtying his clothes in a fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence as punishment on Saturday. At first, Tom is disappointed. However, he soon cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work. He trades these treasures for tickets given out in Sunday school for memorizing Bible verses and uses the tickets to claim a Bible as a prize. He loses much of his glory, however, when, in response to a question to show off his knowledge, he incorrectly answers that the first 2disciples were David and Goliath.
Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get “engaged” to him. Their romance collapses when she learns that Tom has been “engaged” before—to a girl named Amy Lawrence. Shortly after being shunned by Becky, Tom accompanies Huckleberry Finn, the son of the town drunk, to the graveyard at night to try out a “cure” for warts. At the graveyard, they witness the murder of young Dr. Robinson by the Native-American “half-breed” Injun Joe. Scared, Tom and Huck run away and swear a blood oath not to tell anyone what they have seen. Injun Joe blames his companion, Muff Potter, a hapless drunk, for the crime. Potter is wrongfully arrested, and Tom’s anxiety and guilt begin to grow.
Tom, Huck, and Tom’s friend Joe Harper run away to an island to become pirates. While frolicking around and enjoying their newfound freedom, the boys become aware that the community is sounding the river for their bodies. Tom sneaks back home one night to observe the commotion. After a brief moment of remorse at the suffering of his loved ones, Tom is struck by the idea of appearing at his funeral and surprising everyone. He persuades Joe and Huck to do the same. Their return is met with great rejoicing, and they become the envy and admiration of all their friends.
Back in school, Tom gets himself back in Becky’s favor after he nobly accepts the blame for a book that she has ripped. Soon Muff Potter’s trial begins, and Tom, overcome by guilt, testifies against Injun Joe. Potter is acquitted, but Injun Joe flees the courtroom through a window.
Summer arrives, and Tom and Huck go hunting for buried treasure in a haunted house. After venturing upstairs they hear a noise below. Peering through holes in the floor, they see Injun Joe enter the house disguised as a deaf and mute Spaniard. He and his companion, an unkempt man, plan to bury some stolen treasure of their own. From their hiding spot, Tom and Huck wriggle with delight at the prospect of digging it up. By an amazing coincidence, Injun Joe and his partner find a buried box of gold themselves. When they see Tom and Huck’s tools, they become suspicious that someone is sharing their hiding place and carry the gold off instead of reburying it.
Huck begins to shadow Injun Joe every night, watching for an opportunity to nab the gold. Meanwhile, Tom goes on a picnic to McDougal’s Cave with Becky and their classmates. That same night, Huck sees Injun Joe and his partner making off with a box. He follows and overhears their plans to attack the Widow Douglas, a kind resident of St. Petersburg. By running to fetch help, Huck forestalls the violence and becomes an anonymous hero.
Tom and Becky get lost in the cave, and their absence is not discovered until the following morning. The men of the town begin to search for them, but to no avail. Tom and Becky run out of food and candles and begin to weaken. The horror of the situation increases when Tom, looking for a way out of the cave, happens upon Injun Joe, who is using the cave as a hideout. Eventually, just as the searchers are giving up, Tom finds a way out. The town celebrates, and Becky’s father, Judge Thatcher, locks up the cave. Injun Joe, trapped inside, starves to death.
A week later, Tom takes Huck to the cave and they find the box of gold, the proceeds of which are invested for them. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, and, when Huck attempts to escape civilized life, Tom promises him that if he returns to the widow, he can join Tom’s robber band. Reluctantly, Huck agrees.
Tom Sawyer: protagonist. A mischievous, adventurous, full-of-energy child that slowly but surely becomes more and more mature. By the end of the novel he is no longer a disobedient character undermining the adult order, but a defender of respectability and responsibility. In the end, growing up for Tom means embracing social custom and sacrificing the freedoms of childhood. Disobedient though he may be, Tom ends up as St. Petersburg’s hero. As the town gossips say, “[Tom] would be President, yet, if he escaped hanging.”
Huckleberry Finn: He exemplifies freedom within, and from, American society. Huck is the son of the town drunk, he is pretty much an orphan. He grows on his own. Huck smokes and swears. Huck has two traits in common with Tom: a zest for adventure and a belief in superstition. Adult society disapproves of Huck, but because Twain renders Huck such a likable boy, the adults’ disapproval of Huck generally alienates us from them and not from Huck himself. He’s devoted to his rough, independent lifestyle. When the novel ends, Huck, like Tom, is still a work in progress, and we aren’t sure whether the Widow Douglas’s attempts to civilize him will succeed.
Injun Joe: disproportion between the wrongs Injun Joe has suffered—at least as he enumerates them—and the level of vengeance-odplata he hopes to exact is so extreme that we aren’t tempted to excuse his behavior. Injun Joe undergoes no real character development over the course of the novel. He reappear in the novel- this gives us kind of suspense because we have very little sense of whether Tom and Huck’s constant fear that Injun Joe will hurt them has any basis in reality.
Aunt Polly - Tom’s loving aunt and guardian. A simple, kindhearted woman who struggles to balance her love for her nephew with her duty to discipline him. She generally fails in her attempts to keep Tom under control because
Becky Thatcher - Judge Thatcher’s pretty, blond daughter. Becky is the “Adored Unknown”. Tom falls in love with her. Naïve at first, Becky soon matches Tom as a romantic strategist, and the two go to great lengths to make each other jealous.
Joe Harper - Tom’s frequent playmate. Twain refers to Joe and Tom as “two souls with but a single thought.” =parody. Though Joe mostly mirrors Tom, he diverges from Tom’s example when he is the first of the boys to feels homesick on Jackson’s Island. As the novel progresses, Huck begins to assume Joe’s place as Tom’s companion.
Sid - Tom’s half-brother. Sid enjoys getting Tom into trouble. He is mean-spirited but model of good behavior in front of the others.
Mary - Tom’s sweet, almost saintly cousin, she holds a soft spot for Tom. well behaved
Muff Potter - A hapless drunk and friend of Injun Joe. Potter is kind+grateful toward Tom and Huck, who bring him presents after he is jailed for Dr. Robinson’s murder. Potter’s naïve trust eventually pushes Tom’s conscience to the breaking point, compelling Tom to tell the truth at Potter’s trial about who actually committed the murder.
Dr. Robinson - A respected local physician. Dr. Robinson shows his more sordid-podlý side on the night of his murder: he hires Injun Joe and Muff Potter to dig up Hoss Williams’s grave because he wants to use the corpse for medical experiments.
Mr. Sprague - The minister of the town church.
The Widow Douglas - A kindhearted, pious resident of St. Petersburg whom the children recognize as a friend. Tom knows that the Widow Douglas will give him and Becky ice cream and let them sleep over. She is kind to Huck even before she learns that he saved her life.
Mr. Jones - A Welshman who lives with his sons near the Widow Douglas’s house. Mr. Jones responds to Huck’s alarm on the night that Injun Joe intends to attack the widow, and he takes care of Huck in the aftermath.
Judge Thatcher - Becky’s father, the county judge. A local celebrity, Judge Thatcher takes responsibility for issues affecting the community as a whole, such as closing the cave for safety reasons and taking charge of the boys’ treasure money.
Jim - Aunt Polly’s young slave.
Amy Lawrence - Tom’s former love. He abandons her when Becky comes to town.
Ben Rogers - One of Tom’s friends
Alfred Temple - A well-dressed new boy in town. Becky pretends to like him /like Amy Lawrence by Tom/ in order to make Tom jealous.
Mr. Walters - Sunday school superintendent. Because he aspires to please Judge Thatcher, Mr. Walters rewards Tom with a Bible, even though he knows that Tom hasn’t earned it.
Mr. Dobbins - The schoolmaster, a slightly sad character: he had an ambition to be a medical doctor, became a heavy drinker
setting (place) • The fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri (which resembles Twain’s hometown of Hannibal)
Point of view:
The narrator narrates in the third person, with a special insight into the workings of the boyish heart and mind. He views the world critically with wit and nostalgia.
Past tense, he often uses colloquial language. The faithful re-creation of regional dialects is a characteristic element of Twain’s style. Aunt Polly uses a colloquial vocabulary and pronunciation that may be difficult for a reader unfamiliar with these speech patterns. Twain captures the uniqueness of American frontier life. Twain carefully studied the speech of his local Missouri community. Furthermore, he attended closely to the internal variations in speech even within such a small town as Hannibal (rendered in his fiction as St. Petersburg). The differences between the language of rich people and poor people, and between the language of blacks and whites, often find expression in Twain’s dialogue. Aunt Polly’s speech is peppered with clichés and folk wisdom, mixing Scripture and local sayings in a way that gives structure and meaning to her experience.
Tone: Satirical and nostalgic
Moral and social maturation: Tom leads himself, Joe Harper, Huck, and, in the cave, Becky Thatcher into increasingly dangerous situations. He must put his concern for others above his concern for himself, such as when he takes Becky’s punishment and when he testifies at Injun Joe’s trial. Tom shows his increasing maturity, competence, and moral integrity.
Tom’s adventures to Jackson’s Island and McDougal’s Cave take him away from society. These symbolic removals help to prepare him to return to the village with a new, more adult outlook. Though early on Tom looks up to Huck as much older and wiser, by the end of the novel, Tom’s maturity has surpassed Huck’s. Tom’s personal growth is evident in his insistence that Huck stays with the Widow Douglas and become civilized.
Society’s hypocrisy= pretvárka: Twain ridicules and criticizes the values and practices of the adult world. He also mocks individuals, although when doing so he tends to be less biting. Twain shows that social authority fall prey to the same kinds of mistakes that individuals do. In his depiction of families, Twain shows parental authority balanced by parental love and indulgence-zhovievavosť. Though she attempts to punish Tom, Aunt Polly always relents because of her love for her nephew. As the novel proceeds, a similar tendency toward indulgence becomes apparent within the broader community as well. The community is perfectly ready to forgive Tom’s wrongs if it can be sure of his safety.
The games the children play often seem like attempts to subvert authority and escape from conventional society. Skipping school, sneaking out at night, playing tricks on the teacher, and running away for days at a time are all ways of breaking the rules and defying-vzdorovanie authority. The boys’ obsession with superstition is likewise an addiction to convention, which also mirrors the adult society’s focus on religion. Though the novel is critical of society’s hypocrisy—that is, of the frequent discord-nezhoda between its values and its behavior—Twain doesn’t really advocate subversion-zmena. The novel demonstrates the potential dangers of subverting authority just as it demonstrates the dangers of adhering-lipnúť to authority too strictly.
Freedom through social exclusion: St. Petersburg is a community in which outsiders are easily identified. The most notable local outsiders include Huck Finn, Muff Potter and Injun Joe. The community clearly separates outsiders from insiders. Tom too is an orphan who has been taken in by Aunt Polly out of love and filial responsibility. Injun Joe is the only resident of St. Petersburg who is completely excluded from the community.
Huck’s exclusion means that many of the other children are not allowed to play with him. He receives no structured education and often does not even have enough to eat or a place to sleep. Twain presents Huck’s freedom. Huck can smoke and sleep outside and do all the things that the other boys dream of doing. Treasure stifles his freedom. The Widow Douglas changes his lifestyle. Huck’s assimilated into St. Petersburg society. Twain emphasizes the association between financial standing and social standing. Money is an important ingredient in social acceptance; social existence clearly is itself a kind of economy, in which certain costs accompany certain benefits. The price of social inclusion is a loss of complete freedom.
Superstition in an uncertain world: Twain first explores superstition in the graveyard, where Tom and Huck go to try out a magical cure for warts-bradavice. Superstition becomes an important element in all of the boys’ decision-making. Superstitious beliefs -there are so many of them, and they are so freely interpretable; Tom and Huck can pick and choose whichever belief suits their needs at the time. Superstition resembles religion.
The relative ease with which they assimilate these ghastly events/ grave digging, murder, starvation, and attempted mutilation/ into their childish world is perhaps one of the least realistic aspects of the novel. (If the novel were written today, we might expect to read about the psychic damage these extreme childhood experiences have done to them.)
Crime: The boys want to be pirates, robbers, and murderers even though they feel remorse when they actually commit the minor crime of stealing bacon. The two scenes in which Tom plays Robin Hood—who, in stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is both a criminal and a hero—are emblematic of how Tom associates crime with defending values and even altering the structure of society.
Trading: The children in the novel maintain an elaborate miniature economy in which they constantly trade amongst themselves- they replicate the commercial relationships in which the children will have to engage when they get older. The jump from this small-scale property holding at the beginning of the novel to the $12,000 treasure at the end is an extreme one. In spite of all Tom and Huck’s practice, their money is given to a responsible adult. With their healthy allowance, the boys can continue to explore their role as commercial citizens, but at a more moderate rate.
The circus: The boys mention again and again their admiration for the circus life and their desire to be clowns when they grow up. These references emphasize the innocence with which they approach the world.
“showing off”: Tom’s showing off is mostly directed toward Becky Thatcher. When he shows off initially, we guess that he literally prances around and does gymnastics. Later, the means by which Tom and Becky try to impress each other grow more subtle, as they manipulate Amy and Alfred in an effort to make each other jealous.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
The cave: a trial that Tom has to pass before he can graduate into maturity
The storm: The storm on Jackson’s Island symbolizes the danger involved in the boys’ removal from society. Later, when Tom is sick, he believes that the storm hit to indicate that God’s wrath is directed at him personally. The storm thus becomes an external symbol of Tom’s conscience.
The treasure: a symbolic goal that marks the end of the boys’ journey. It becomes a indicator of Tom’s transition into adulthood and Huck’s movement into civilized society.
The village: a microcosm of the United States or of society in general.
Genre: Novel that resembles a bildungsroman- a novel that follows the development of a hero from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. The novel also resembles novels of the picaresque genre, in that Tom moves from one adventurous episode to another. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also fits the genres of satire, frontier literature, folk narrative, and comedy.
My own interpretation:
Twain based The Adventures of Tom Sawyer largely on his personal memories of growing up in Hannibal in the 1840s. Aunt Polly shares many characteristics with Twain’s mother; Mary is based on Twain’s sister Pamela; and Sid resembles Twain’s younger brother, Henry
major conflict • Tom and Huck perceive their biggest struggle to be between themselves and Injun Joe, whose gold they want and whom they believe is out to kill them. Conflict also exists between Tom and his imaginative world and the expectations and rules of adult society.
rising action • Tom and Huck’s witness of Dr. Robinson’s murder; the search for the boys’ bodies in the river when they escape to Jackson’s Island; Tom’s testimony at Muff Potter’s trial; Tom and Huck’s accidental sighting of Injun Joe at the haunted house; Tom and Becky’s entrapment in the cave
climax • Huck overhears Injun Joe’s plan to kill the Widow Douglas, and Tom encounters Injun Joe when he and Becky are stranded in the cave.
falling action • Huck gets help from the Welshman and drives Injun Joe away from the Widow Douglas; Tom avoids conflict with Injun Joe and navigates himself and Becky out of the cave; Judge Thatcher seals off the cave, causing Injun Joe to starve to death; Tom and Huck find Injun Joe’s treasure; Huck is adopted and civilized by the Widow Douglas.
foreshadowing • When he is frustrated by his fight with Becky, Tom declares his intention to become a pirate, foreshadowing his later excursion to Jackson’s Island; Tom’s great fear of Injun Joe foreshadows his later encounters with him; Tom’s obsession with the oath he and Huck have taken never to speak about Dr. Robinson’s murder foreshadows the fact that Tom will later break the oath and testify at Muff Potter’s trial
MARK TWAIN (1835-1910)
Important Quotations Explained
1. 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. He’s full of the Old Scratch, but laws-a-me! he’s my own dead sister’s boy, poor thing, and I ain’t got the heart to lash him, somehow. Every time I let him off, my conscience does hurt me so, and every time I hit him my old heart most breaks.
from Chapter 1, when Tom has just escaped Aunt Polly’s once again. Aunt Polly’s mixture of amusement and frustration at Tom’s antics is characteristic of her good humor. She often seems to admire Tom’s cleverness and his vivacity. Her inner conflict about her treatment of Tom is summed up in the final sentence of this passage.
The faithful re-creation of regional dialects is a characteristic element of Twain’s style. Aunt Polly uses a colloquial vocabulary and pronunciation that may be difficult for a reader unfamiliar with these speech patterns. Twain captures the uniqueness of American frontier life. Twain carefully studied the speech of his local Missouri community. Furthermore, he attended closely to the internal variations in speech even within such a small town as Hannibal (rendered in his fiction as St. Petersburg). The differences between the language of rich people and poor people, and between the language of blacks and whites, often find expression in Twain’s dialogue. Aunt Polly’s speech is peppered with clichés and folk wisdom, mixing Scripture and local sayings in a way that gives structure and meaning to her experience.
2. “Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”
The brush continued to move.
“Like it? Well I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”
That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth—stepped back to note the effect—added a touch here and there—criticized the effect again—Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:
“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
Ben Rogers and Tom from Chapter 2. An initial look at Tom’s ingenious character. Tom’s skilled as an actor and his instinctively understands human behavior. Tom always keeps one step ahead of his victims, cornering them verbally into the response he desires. In painting these scenes, Twain draws on the American folk tradition of the trickster.
This episode also gives Twain a chance to advance the idea that certain values are as much a matter of convention as anything. The moral with which Twain concludes this amusing scene is, “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and . . . [p]lay consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” The arbitrariness of many conventions and the absurdity with which people desire things just because they are forbidden are facts of life that Twain scrutinizes again and again in the novel.
3. Mr. Walters fell to “showing off,” with all sorts of official bustlings and activities. . . . The librarian “showed off”—running hither and thither with his arms full of books. . . . The young lady teachers “showed off”. . . . The young gentlemen teachers “showed off”. . . . The little girls “showed off” in various ways, and the little boys “showed off” with such diligence that the air was thick with paper wads and the murmur of scufflings. And above it all the great man sat and beamed a majestic judicial smile upon all the house, and warmed himself in the sun of his own grandeur—for he was “showing off,” too.
This Sunday school scene from Chapter 4 -in this scene he directs his mockery toward human nature in a more generalized way. Ridiculous behavior is exhibited by teachers, students, boys, and girls. So strong is the human need to impress and to win approval that not even Judge Thatcher is exempt from the temptation to “show off.” The desire to stand out is universal, but in the end people all look alike.
4. Huck Finn’s wealth and the fact that he was now under the Widow Douglas’s protection introduced him into society—no, dragged him into it, hurled him into it—and his sufferings were almost more than he could bear. The widow’s servants kept him clean and neat, combed and brushed…. He had to eat with knife and fork; he had to use napkin, cup, and plate; he had to learn his book, he had to go to church; he had to talk so properly that speech was become insipid in his mouth; whithersoever he turned, the bars and shackles of civilization shut him in and bound him hand and foot.
This passage from Chapter 35 is perhaps the clearest description of the way Huck’s life changes after the Widow Douglas takes him in. Even though the passage is told by the narrator, it seems like we would get Huck’s perspective This technique—rendering a limited, childish point of view as though it were objective—is one Twain uses throughout the novel to help us identify with the boys more than with the adults of the town. We are thus able to view the events of the novel from a double perspective: from a child’s and adult’s point of view. The behavior of Widow Douglas is meant to shock us. Huck feels like in a prison after a life of such radical freedom.