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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) novel, first published in 1876. It introduces the reader to not only the character of Tom, but also to Huckleberry Finn, a significant character in literary history and in the literary canon. Unlike Twain’s 1884 novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is considered by many to be one of the most important works in American literature, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is often classed as a children’s tale, and not containing the same literary merit of Huckleberry Finn.
The story contained in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer certainly makes for a much “lighter” book with less mature themes and more escapist tendencies. This doesn’t necessarily mean it should be excluded from the category of “literature.” As writers of children’s books like J.K. Rowling have proven, sometimes “lighter matters for children” are as well written as deeper subjects. It is true that the novel didn’t at first inspire overwhelming love and affection by readers. Yet Tom Sawyer and his friends did grow on readers after a while, and the book was intensely popular by the early 20th century.
Readers of all types may find much that is true in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom is a likable lad, much more inclined toward play than work or school, who is being raised by his Aunt Polly in the pre-Civil War South. Although the beginning of the novel is a series of vignettes, the most famous of which is Tom’s ability to trick several other children into whitewashing a fence for him by making it seem like the most desirable task in the world, the novel soon sets out on its main focus: Tom’s desire to uncover the evil tasks of Injun Joe and to uncover a significant buried treasure.
There are several worthy scenes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that bear mention. Despite eschewing work, Tom operates under a fine moral code. When called to testify at Muff Potter’s trial, he risks his own life by relating that it was truly Injun Joe who killed Dr. Robinson. Later in the book, he lets the town authorities know that Injun Joe is secreted in the caves he discovered with his love Becky Thatcher at her birthday party. Another quite wonderful scene is Tom and Huck’s determination to attend their own funeral, after they’ve run away to play pirates for a few days.
Tom Sawyer ends on an innocent and unambiguous note, and Tom has undergone few changes as a character. Injun Joe is discovered dead, and Tom and Huck find a huge buried treasure that makes them both rich. The character remains similar through several sequels, looking at the world as play and holding a Peter Pan view of not wishing to grow up. The same cannot be said of Huck, who undergoes significant change in Huckleberry Finn and to a degree resents Tom’s boyish exuberance in his short appearance in the book. Their relationship is restored with the lighter-hearted sequels Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective, both of which are first person narrations by Huck.