“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”: Twain’s Extensive Use of Sarcasm

Sarcasm by definition entirely changes the way a comment or sometimes whole event is interpreted, often flipping a subject on its head, altering the original obvious meaning and revealing it to be the near opposite. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain uses sarcasm throughout the text to add humor, change reader’s perspective of events, portray a theme or moral, and also just to express his thoughts on a certain subject. The place of satiric sarcasm in the novel may be more important and more complex than might appear at first glance.

In these scenes, one overarching reason that Twain uses sarcasm throughout the story is to add humor. Sarcasm makes the story as a whole much funnier, humor being a quality that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is famous for. Without such remarkably funny moments, the novel would likely not have become so popular with such a diverse group of readers, especially of a younger age. Such laughable parts in the novel make the story much more attractive, but they have another purpose other than for pure enjoyment. Heavy sarcasm makes the book not just much more interesting, but also adds a layer of depth. Sarcasm turns the novel into a story you can get more easily caught up in and ponder certain events. For example, Tom’s hiding under the bed when the ladies are crying over his death makes the scene a lot different. The ladies are crying over their dead boy, who of course is right there, under his bed. The sentence, “I hope Tom is better off wherever he is” (Twain 130). is even said by one of the broken hearted women. Tom being under the bed makes that statement highly ironic, the scene absurd, and the ladies’ speech extremely sarcastic, and their emotions impossible to take seriously. As they are weeping, rather than just two ladies crying over the death of a child, a none too funny occurrence, the scene is given new depth and a hidden idea is revealed. The scene is now hilarious and idiotic, and the ladies real sorrow histrionic. You can’t possibly see the scene as sad and serious because because of the extreme sarcasm and black humor present. This satire makes you wonder what it is that makes something despondent in the first place and question if there is always a reason for such sorrow, as is the case with the two ladies. Their sorrow could have been easily avoidable, ending if they had just peaked under the bed. Sarcasm adds to the notion particularly that events are not always as they first seem, making the reader open their mind to a deeper assessment of various parts of life.

A single concept Twain loves to make fun of in the novel is romance. Twain frequently uses sarcasm to do it. This is shown in how he constantly plays on the romance between Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. As the town is preparing for the seemingly dead boy’s’ funeral, Becky is moping around the schoolyard, apparently overwhelming depressed. She soon begins to sob, unable to stop thinking about Tom. She says to herself, “Oh if only I had a andiron brass knob again; I haven’t got anything to remember him by.”(146). Here events are made sarcastically funny because this romance mocks the typical love story plot. Tom and Becky are only children, and instead of a ring Tom presented Becky with a doorknob. “Oh if it was to do all over again I wouldn’t say that, but he’s gone now, and I’ll never see him no more” (146). Becky cried. Again making fun of the predictable love novel, Twain has Becky reject Tom, and only now that he is “gone forever” (244). Becky of course realizes how much she cares for Tom and would vow to love him forever if he came back. And unsurprisingly, he does. Mark Twain puts a silly twist on this affair that makes it clever, funny and enjoyable to follow through the narrative. Also once again a rather sad scene becomes laughable due to implied sarcasm, making it clear how drastically sarcasm can change a scene and its perspective, and then so its impact. Twain portrays love as ridiculous and by doing so, makes his statement love and relationships are not the serious emotional rollercoaster and life changing experience many make them out to be, and instead are only particularly significant to the inappropriate mindset of the two involved, revealing Twain’s own scorn of romance. A further theme of how foolish people can be is presented by Twain’s making fun of this childhood romance, as the children attempt to imitate real love.

Another scene that is laced with sarcasm is the fence whitewashing scene. Twain uses a single short paragraph to rapidly change your whole view of the scene. Here, Tom needs to whitewash a fence, a chore he really does not want to do. Eventually, he manages to cons his friends into doing this chore for him by pretending to have great interest in the task, faking acute focus, and acting as if it was of the utmost importance it is completed. Afterwards, Tom realizes “he had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it.” (19). that “…to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make that thing hard to attain.”(19). Something so profound as the application of knowledge of human nature is reduced to a child getting his friends to do his chores for him. This idea could be a complex theme explored this case. Yet, instead of hinting at it and opening it up for analysis, Twain just tells it to you straight out, turning the whole scene into rather a simple gag. “The boy mused awhile over the substantial change which had taken place in his worldly circumstances, and then wended toward headquarters to report” (20). Twain adds “If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would have now comprehended that work consisted of what a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”(19). Such commentary is made into higher satire especially because Tom Sawyer is meant represent a younger Mark Twain. Even more now that the book has become so widely read and analyzed, this passage mocks the real book critics and such who consider themselves the actual so called ‘wise philosophers’, perhaps people who thought they were so very smart figuring out the theme of the scene. From one point of view, this scene is funny because of the sarcasm, but some people might wonder if Twain had any serious deeper point in portraying this theme, such as questioning the merits of analysis by those who consider themselves knowledgeable on such topics.

Sarcasm in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer changes how the reader interprets certain parts of the book, but also allows for deeper contemplation without making events too serious, complex, or dismal, as in other adult novels. Noted here, because of the sarcasm in the fence whitewashing and hiding under the bed scene, and how Twain incorporates sarcasm using Tom and Becky’s relationship, the book becomes more entertaining and compelling. These two scenes create added depth as well, by making the themes questionable. Sarcasm additionally allows Twain to showcase his personal ideas or thoughts on the matter, as he does with regard to mocking his own intelligence. (This tactic of Twain’s is even more ironic today, as he is hailed as one of the greatest writers of all time). Twain’s sarcasm is complex, and like modern day comedians and social critics, serves to entertain as well as provide otherwise unseen insight into important worldly events and human society as a whole.

The Growth of Tom Sawyer

Children as a whole have a propensity to rebel and cause mischief when they are younger, but this trait tends to disappear as they face challenges and begin to grow up. Mark Twain’s classic novel from 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, follows the title character through his many unusual exploits and displays his development into a more conscientious young man. This novel was partly written for the purpose of giving adults a look back at their youth, in an instructive manner; after all, Tom starts out as an immature boy, then begins to exhibit signs of entering adulthood as he faces increasingly challenging mental and physical circumstances. Although Twain initially establishes Tom as reckless and irresponsible, his development through his encounter at the graveyard and his experience on Jackson Island prove that children may behave immaturely but have a tendency to become more mature as they face hardships.

Tom’s growth was first displayed through the calamity he witnessed at the graveyard and his decision to step forward for the purpose of proving Muff Potter’s innocence. At first, Tom and Huck Finn essentially ignored the option of speaking out and saving Potter, because they “…wouldn’t be alive two days if that got found out” (133) Both of these boys were originally too scared for their well-being to speak out against Injun Joe and tell the truth. However, as the story progresses, Tom Sawyer displays growth in maturity and decision-making and begins to seriously consider that option. Additionally, Tom’s fear of Injun Joe and for his life prevented him from speaking once on the stand, but “… the boy got … his strength back, and managed to put enough of it into his voice to make part of the house hear…” (137). Tom’s decision to make the moral choice and to put his life on the line to save Muff Potter’s was a noble one. This decision was mainly caused by the internal struggle he went through before Muff Potter’s trial, proving that hardships are what mature children.

Moreover, after his rough encounter with Becky, Tom Sawyer impulsively makes the decision to leave with his friends Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn to Jackson Island. In the beginning of their stay, Joe brings up the idea of going back to civilization, but “Tom withered him with derision… Mutiny was effectually laid to rest for the moment” (92). At first, he is too concerned with enjoying his freedom to realize how much pain he is causing his family. However, Tom changes his mind after giving the issue additional thought, and visits them for the purpose of putting their minds at ease. Not only that, but he later justified his actions to Aunt Polly, stating that he came back “…to tell you [Aunt Polly] not to be uneasy about us, because we hadn’t got drownded” (117). His explanation is received well by his aunt, who is pleasantly shocked by his considerate thoughts, saying that this thoughtfulness would cover up a number of sins. The challenges he faced during his stay on the island and after he returned to civilization helped him develop his decision-making skills.

Tom explores a further adventure, with only Huckleberry Finn this time, gaining more valuable lessons as a result. Tom and Huck are trying to find buried treasures while acting as pirates near a haunted house, but cannot proceed due to their own beliefs that “sometimes witches [would] interfere [along with]…dead people [and]…ghosts…on an [unlucky] day,…Friday” (224,227,229). However, both of them are able to conquer their fears and move on with the adventure. Tom and Huck are no longer dependent children anymore, but instead have transformed into brave teenagers, able to figure out the issues by themselves. During this adventure, Tom and Huck also ask each other what they are “going to do with [their own] share [of money]” (222). Neither had understood the value of money until that very moment. Tom and Huck discover that they must be able to manage and be responsible with their money, which will benefit them in the future.

Through the challenging decisions that Tom Sawyer makes, Mark Twain proves that maturity occurs gradually, and that any difficulties faced along the way accelerate the child’s growth. He displays this conception multiple times throughout the novel, but there are a few instances in which this theme is exemplified most noticeably. Sawyer learns through his challenges during the ordeal involving Muff Potter and Injun Joe, and struggles to make the right decision. Additionally, he makes a considerate, thoughtful choice after his experiences on Jackson Island. Although at first Tom Sawyer makes immature decisions, he takes immense leaps in maturity throughout the novel, acquiring characteristics crucial to his future on the way.

Tom Sawyer Goes Too Far

Even though Tom Sawyer is just a young boy in the chapter “Here a Captive Heart Busted,” his actions cross the boundary of child’s play and enter into the boundaries of wrongdoing. This comical, yet tedious chapter in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gives insight into a main point of the novel, that Jim is a human being just like the whites and deserves to be treated like one. At this pre-Civil war time, most people conceive slaves to be sub-human, or half-human, which allows them clear consciences to sell and use them for labor. Needless to say, slaves were not allowed to escape. Runaway slaves like Jim were not sympathized as humans claiming freedom, but chastised for stealing property from their masters. Twain challenges us in this view, and uses the simple hearted Huck Finn to recognize human characteristics in him like love, kindness, and loyalty. After many chapters of this metamorphosis in Huck’s mind, Tom Sawyer enters the story. The way he treats Jim stands in sharp contrast to Huck’s way, and his absurd demands cause the reader to become exasperated. An evaluation of specific details leads us into a better understanding of Twain’s racial beliefs.In the “Captive Heart” chapter, Tom demands Jim to do ten ridiculous tasks: each task originates in Tom’s notion that Jim must perform the role of an adventurous prisoner. These tasks are so ludicrous that even Huck has a hard time seeing the point. They are tediously described as “the work and bother of raising the mullen, and jew’s-harping the rats, and petting and flattering up the snakes and spiders and things, on top of all the other work he had to on pens, and inscriptions, and journals, and things, which made it more trouble and responsibility to be a prisoner than anything [Jim] ever undertook” (254). One of Tom’s ideas is for Jim to write out a lengthy inscription explaining the woes of a prisoner on the side of the “prison” walls. Yet, Tom rejects the log walls because “they don’t have log walls in a dungeon: we got to dig the inscriptions in a rock” (249). Comically, the grindstone they choose is too heavy for the two boys to carry all the way that Jim has to slide out of his chain, walk out into the field, and carry it back with Huck. That the prisoner temporarily frees himself in order to fulfill conditions to be free is ironic, and it reveals that Tom regards Jim’s freedom as a game; unfortunately, Jim does not feel this way, his escape is a matter of rights, freedom, and his life. Tom and Jim’s different priorities create a conflict that pulls the readers to desire Tom to stop handling Jim’s life so haphazardly.Another instance where Tom’s absurd notions are fulfilled at Jim’s expense occurs when Tom demands that Jim have a rattlesnake for a dumb pet. Tom expects Jim to tame it and pet it so that it will love Jim and follow him around everywhere. Scared for his life, Jim pleads, “Please Mars Tom‹doan’ talk so! I can’ stan’ it!” (251). Tom replies, “Jim, don’t act so foolish. A prisoner’s got to have some kind of a dumb pet [Š] there’s more glory to be gained in your being the first to ever try it than any other way you could ever think of to save your life” (251). Again, a conflict arises between Tom and Jim’s priorities; Whereas Tom is playing a game, Jim is negotiating his life and freedom. The structure Twain uses here causes readers to protest that it does not matter if Jim gains any glory by being a pretend prisoner. Instead, readers are encouraged to sympathize with him and want him to become free. Furthermore, it is clear that Jim is not the fool, but rather Tom. Yet, because Jim is a slave, he must submit to any whimsical idea Tom may have because he is white. Through such interactions, Twain leads readers to recognize a great injustice in slavery.There is only so much nonsense that Jim can take. Every preposterous new idea adds to his frustration. He finds “so much fault with [having an onion sent to him in his coffee], and with the work and bother of raising the mulllen, and jew’s harping the rats, and petting and flattering up the snakes and spiders and things, on top of al the other work he had to do on pens, and inscriptions, and journals, and things, which made it more trouble and worry and responsibility to be a prisoner than anything he ever undertook, that Tom most lost all patience with him” (254). Here, Jim’s complaints can be understood and forgiven because they are so acceptable. Although Jim should have the right to protest these ridiculous ideas, Tom loses patience with Jim‹the one who thinks with reason and clarity. He counters that Jim “was just loadened down with more gaudier chances than a prisoner ever had in the world to make a name for himself, and yet he didn’t know enough to appreciate them, and they was just about wasted on him. So Jim he was sorry, and said he wouldn’t behave so no more [Š]” (254). Readers are allowed to witness a sensible adult man under the controls of a silly young boy. Readers can sympathize that Jim is forced to try to make a name for himself as a prisoner, when all he wants to do is be free and be united with his family. He is even forced to appease his white friend by apologizing that he is behaving wrongly. Such a humble admission causes Jim’s character to be viewed as noble and friendly. No doubt, Twain forms these details to comment that Jim is a human who is capable of thinking and making decisions. Readers are made to feel that it is an injustice for Jim to be subject to Tom’s whims.Chapter thirty-eight of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn elaborately depicts the schemes of a young boy to create a fanciful adventure about a captive prisoner. As charming as this plot is, it loses its fun when the prisoner turns out to be a real slave. Tom’s attempts at fun are so out of place that readers become frustrated that Jim is forced to perform such stupid and unnecessary tasks. Tom’s requests and attitude show that he does not take Jim seriously as a human being. This attitude contrasts to that of Huck who has learned to value Jim through the relationship he formed with Jim on the river. Mark Twain fashions these details to infuriate readers at the injustice of slavery and challenges them to regard former slaves as whole human beings. To treat them negligibly is to be as outlandish as Tom Sawyer.

Tom’s Bugs

Tom Sawyer is a boy’s boy. He’s mischievous, he’s adventure seeking, he’s fascinated with bugs. Yet while much has been written about these first two personality traits, it is the third one ­ the unexamined territory of Tom’s insectuous interactions ­ that intrigues me. Throughout my reading of Tom Sawyer there was a prevalent buzzing in my ear ­ a nipping at my neck. It became apparent to me that while the main characters in the novel may be Tom, Becky, and Huck, some of the key players in the story have no lines at all. Instead, they have wings. In this paper, I examine most of the cases where insects creep their way into Tom’s story. Sometimes their presence may go unnoticed, but at others, their sting is long-lasting. The small references to Tom’s insect encounters will be mentioned simply to establish that, in an example of art imitating life, the bugs are everywhere. Yet it is the cases when the symbolic message of the insect is impossible to ignore that we will deal with in the greatest detail.Prior to putting specific examples under the microscope, let us quickly attempt to get all the bugs out of the book. We will examine with an entomologist’s precise eye the star bugs: the fly and the beetle in church, the doodlebug in the field, the tick at school, and Tom’s equation of man to insect. Yet before doing so, we must first note the minor bugs ­ the cameos so to speak. You may only recall one or two instances where an insect plays a role in the book, but like the saying goes, for every cockroach you see, there a dozen more behind the walls. There’s the ventriloquist cricket in Chapter Nine that “no human ingenuity could locate” (65). Later on that same page, Tom hears the ticking of deathwatch, a type of beetle, which according to superstition meant that “somebody’s days were numbered.” There is the tumblebug on Jackson Island who plays dead when Tom pokes it. Here we also encounter the ants who struggle to carry away a spider five times their size. We also cannot forget the ladybug to whom Tom commands “Lady-bug, lady-bug, fly away home, your house is on fire, your children’s alone” (96). Again, while insights could be drawn about the individual appearances of all these insects, at the risk of being repetitive, and quite possibly of bugging you (sorry, I couldn’t resist), I will focus on the specific cases mentioned before, beginning with the fly and beetle at church.This scene is one of the first instances that we see Tom interact with an insect. During the minister’s bottomless prayer, Tom is greeted at his pew by a common housefly. The intricate, if not intimate, description which the fly is given, is more reminiscent of a peeping Tom describing his hidden lover than of the supposed praying Tom outlining a winged guest. In the midst of the prayer a fly had lit on the back of the pew in front of him and tortured his spirit by calmly rubbing its hands together, embracing its head with its arms, and polishing it so vigorously that it seemed to almost part company with the body, and the slender thread of a neck was exposed to view; scraping its wings with its hind legs and smoothing them to its body as if they had been coattails, going through its whole toilet as tranquilly as if it knew it was perfectly safe (40).It is a significant commentary that the house fly, one of the simplest of all creatures, is more intriguing to Tom than a discussion with The Creator himself ­ the prayer which is taking place. This is just the beginning of Twain’s intentional undermining of the Christian Church, and not the last time that he will use a bug as his messenger.A few moments after the fly departs, another insect acts as Tom’s sermon diversion. He remembers that he has in his possession a “treasure” in that he has a pinch-bug. Upon its removal, the beetle immediately lives up to its name. The ensuing pinch causes Tom to fling it into the aisle. Whereas with the fly before, only Tom seemed to enjoy the distraction from the prayer it provided, in this instance we see that several people “uninterested in the sermon, found relief in the beetle” (41). With this, Twain further pokes fun at the church. Not only was a boy bored by the tedious proceedings, but a good part of the congregation was as well. Again, even something as low as an insect is more interesting than the apparent height of God’s message. Furthermore, the dichotomy of the serious and the playful, or the moral and the mischievous, which these interactions establish, parallels Tom’s prevalent struggle between the need for adventure and his desire to be good for Aunt Polly.Twain uses a doodlebug to further demystify the Church. After his superstition regarding his lost marbles fails to yield the expected result, “Tom’s whole structure of faith was shaken to its foundations.” In order to satisfy his shaken faith, Tom falls to his knees, not to pray, but to seek the prophetic advice of a bug. “Doodlebug, doodlebug, tell me what I want to know,” Tom chants as his mouth is close to the ground. Then suddenly, “the sand began to work, and presently a small black bug appeared for a second and then darted under again in fright.” To Tom’s delight, his questions have been answered. “He dasn’t tell! So it was a witch that done it. I just knowed it” (62, all quotes). The doodlebug tells us much more than just that Tom’s failed superstition was because of a witch’s curse. Before calling on it for advice, Tom doesn’t say what the doodlebug is supposed to do if a witch is responsible. It is merely when it does something, presumably anything, that his faith is renewed. Twain is mocking the actions of the Christians who say, “Oh Lord, please give me a sign,” and then when a rain drop falls or a dog barks, they are certain that God has spoken. Likewise, Tom’s interpretation of the doodlebug’s message shows us that you can find whatever you want if you are looking hard enough. Tom says, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, tell me what I want to know,” not “tell me what you know.” It’s obvious that he’s already made up his mind to be satisfied either way. In this sense, Twain is relating the superstition of the kids throughout the story to Christianity as a whole. Both become ridiculous when they are reduced symbolically, and literally, to a boy on his knees who is asking a bug to reveal the divine truth. This technique of questioning Christianity by lowering its traditions to childlike games is later used by Twain in Huck Finn. It seems childish when at the beginning of that book the boys are making their life choices based on the writings in Robin Hood and other adventure books. Yet when placed against the reality that adults do the same thing each day with the writings of the Bible, the reader becomes a little uneasy. In Tom Sawyer, placing hope in prayer is like living your life according to the Bible ­ the doodlebug is Robin Hood.Another key insect encounter is when Tom and Joe choreograph the actions of the tick while at school. Tom typically finds himself bored in the schoolroom as he feels that it stifles his adventures. Drawing upon insects for a metaphor, Tom says “the drowsing murmur of the five and twenty studying scholars soothed the soul like the spell that is in the murmur of bees” (54). In order to alleviate his boredom, Tom begins playing with a tick, by orchestrating its movements with a pin. His friend Joe soon joins in, and as sharing the game becomes difficult, a fight soon follows. This scene is an obvious depiction of the little value Tom places on education. School imprisons Tom and attempts to control him much in the same way that he does the tick. The tick scene also allows some insight into the childlike nature of Tom. When things aren’t going his way (i.e. the tick staying on his side of the slate) he changes the rules. He’s willing to share the tick only as long as it remains on his side of the slate and he’s the one who gets to play with it. It is this selfishness that often leads to Tom’s getting into trouble. Sometimes the bugs in Tom Sawyer are not literal. In these cases, their metaphoric weight is increased tenfold. During a thunderstorm, Tom hides beneath his covers fearing that God was finally seeking his vengeance on him. It might have seemed to him [God] a waste of pomp and ammunition to kill a bug with a battery of artillery, but there seemed nothing incongruous about the getting up such an expensive thunderstorm as this to knock the turf from under an insect like himself” (144).Unlike before where Twain uses bugs to reduce themes like Christianity and education, here Tom himself is reduced to an insect. Tom’s role in the world is questioned as he views himself as insignificant as a bug. Furthermore, God is portrayed as a vengeful master who conjures up a storm to squash his trivial creations, not as a loving father who offers forgiveness. The equating of man to insect appears again later in the book, this time referring to Injun Joe, not Tom. Of the water-drip which created the stalagmite near Injun Joe’s dead body, Tom wonders, “Did this drop fall patiently during five thousand years to be ready for this flitting human insect’s need?” (202). In a strange twist, Twain doubles Injun Joe with Tom by likening each to insects. Tom constantly struggles with feeling insignificant and contemplates his own death. Now standing before a dead man, this insignificance is reconfirmed, and man is again reduced to an insect that can be squashed at a moment’s notice.After reading Tom Sawyer with the entomologist paradigm in mind, it is apparent that unless the book is fumigated before reading, insects play a large role in the story. Sometimes they merely provide comic relief, but often their role is more important. They are at times used as a means of demystifying the Church, and at others provide a commentary on Tom’s view of education. Later, they act to reduce man’s view of himself in the world to the most insignificant level. While the insects in Tom Sawyer may at first seem unimportant, once they are looked at with a critical mindset, their buzzing cannot be ignored.

The Virtues of an Outcast: Huckleberry Finn and His Role in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Being a pariah, or at least being labeled one, can change a person’s life, and not for the better. Huckleberry Finn, the town “pariah,” is called and treated as an outcast for many reasons, but mainly, because he’s different. Huck Finn is the trouble-maker of the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, his life described by the author and narrator, Mark Twain. The author makes it known that he enjoys not fitting in and doesn’t make an effort to own up to society’s standards. Although Huckleberry Finn is judged for living a unique, different lifestyle, being branded an outcast of the small town of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the sympathetic voice of Mark Twain makes his audience admire Huck’s endurance and sense of pride for standing out.

Because of his clothes, attitude, and difference compared to others, Huckleberry Finn is considered the outcast of St. Petersburg. Twain describes Huck’s dissimilar appearance, one of the many causes of the hateful and nasty descriptions, painting an image of a neglected, independent boy in the reader’s minds. For example, “Huckleberry was always dressed in the cast off clothes of full grown men, and they were in perennial bloom and fluttering with rags” (Twain 43). This creates a clear picture of someone who is different in contrast to society. Huckleberry, in fact, is the definition of different in this story. He doesn’t live in a regular home, always moving between abandoned buildings and rundown warehouses. He steals other’s belongings and small portions of food. These actions, along with society’s knowledge of them, are what create the use of the word, “outcast,” to coincide with Huck’s name. Huckleberry does what he wants with no disregards or punishments, no rules, and no guidance. Huck doesn’t go to church or memorize scripture verses, this is revolting and unacceptable to the rest of the “respectable” people of the town. Also, on top of the reputation made by only himself, Huckleberry was “son of the town drunkard” (Twain 43). The fact that Mark Twain includes Huckleberry’s father in the description of Huckleberry himself states that when people describe or acknowledge him, they include the relation of Huck’s dad with it. Even though Huckleberry’s divergent way of living costs him friends and affection from most, he prefers the limelight he stands in.

Huckleberry Finn is frowned upon by most mothers and banned to most kids, receiving judgmental stares and disappointed whispers, but still some amount of praise. Huck’s rebel exterior worries mothers’ minds into, or at least trying to, suppress him from their children’s lives. Huckleberry, in other words, was “cordially hated and dreaded by all mothers of the town, because he was idle and vulgar and lawless and bad- and all of their children admired him so, and delighted in his forbidden society, and wished they dared to be like him” (Twain 43). This describes the mothers’ feeling towards Huck, as well as the other boys’ respect and jealousy directed at him. In their minds, everything that Huck had was everything they could ever want, all the things that make life wonderful. Another statement written by Twain that illustrates the picture of an admired, yet detested Huck Finn is, “Tom was like the rest of the respectable boys, in that he envied Huck his gaudy outcast condition, and was under strict orders not to play with him” (Twain 43). Twain briefly mentions the mothers’ disgust and revulsion towards Huck in a subtle way when he mentions the orders of having no association with Huck, but also the boys’ want for his freedom and social stance. In the way of describing Huckleberry’s treatment from others, the main feelings experienced towards Huck, some being unfair and cruel, were hatred and esteem.

Although Mark Twain created a difficult life for the character of Huckleberry Finn, any reader can see the sympathy he holds and wants his audience to feel for the rebel. When Mark Twain first has Huckleberry make an appearance, he describes Huck’s life as rough, yet amazing and free. Twain created an uncomfortable scene with a motherly gesture, a hug, from Aunt Polly, and describes Huck as not used to the affection. This is shown when the narrator says, “And the loving attentions Aunt Polly lavished upon him were the one thing capable of making him more uncomfortable than he was before” (Twain pagebypagebooks.com). The readers are meant to awe and sympathize over Huck’s past and lack of a mother figure that causes a very awkward act of comfort. Huck also has no family whatsoever; the family that does, or did, interact with him was his father, who would beat and ignore him. Huckleberry’s abusive father treated him extremely poorly and most likely tarnished Huck’s image of a loving family. Mark Twain wouldn’t have fabricated these hardships and rough past if he didn’t sympathize for Huckleberry Finn because of these certain hardships.

Twain shows his pity towards Huck when writing things such as, “Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses and poured out thanksgivings, while poor Huck stood abashed and uncomfortable, not knowing exactly what to do or where to hide from so many unwelcoming eyes. He wavered, and started to slink away, but Tom seized him and said: “”Aunt Polly, it ain’t fair. Somebody’s got to be glad to see Huck”” (Twain pagebypagebooks.com). Twain not only has Huck noticed, but also has people express their affection towards him in an unfamiliar way. This excerpt shows that Mark Twain cares about Huck’s acceptance and wants some parts of the book to contain affection and want for Huckleberry, just like the instance with Widow Douglas. Widow Douglas accepts Huck into her home and cares for him. Also, at the same time, she is introducing him to society. With the help of the widow, Huck learns the ways of a civilized community and how to have manners and be polite. Even with the new found interest and care for Huck, he still loathes everything about it. Through the pitiful words and occurrences of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain, one can easily see the sympathy he feels for the original character he created.

Many outcasts are discovered and produced by Mark Twain in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but Huckleberry Finn is the biggest and most mentioned in the book. Boys envy him for his defiant courage of being different, mothers hate him for his word choices and influences on their sons, and Mark Twain sympathizes for him, dashing his life story with hints of joy and welcomeness. Everyone is an outcast in their own way, Huckleberry just happens to show it more broadly. After all, every good book needs a unique character.

A Grown-Up Empire: An Analysis of the Imperialistic Relationship Between Children and Adults in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Of the many puzzles and questions woven throughout Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, perhaps the most salient of all is the bizarre and often-times self-contradictory relationship between the various children of St. Petersburg and their adult counterparts. These relationships are defined by dozens upon dozens of smaller interactions between several different individuals in both groups, and come together to form a confusing skein of conflicting narratives. From truly the first word of the book, it is made clear the children and adults have a conflict-based and often adversarial relationship, where neither side is interested nor willing to give ground or capitulate, shown clearly in the first dozen lines of story, where Aunt Polly is first seen imperiously calling for Tom while threatening him under her breath (Twain 39). For his part, Tom—and the other children by extension—is not quite the humble and dutiful subject that such a tone seems to demand, tricking her less than a page later by yelling “look behind you, Aunt,” then turning tail and bolting (40). While this may seem like a relatively normal relationship to have between a child and his or her authority figure, albeit a rebellious one, this example is just a small part of a much larger dynamic that is at play. To truly see situation as a whole, it is necessary to view it through an entirely different lens. In this way, the relationship between children and adults in Tom Sawyer is best understood as a whole if it is taken as an analog for imperialism, with one independent society—the adults—imposing their culture and way of life onto the other—the children—who are portrayed as wild and in need of civilizing, carried out primarily by the use of physical violence and religious instruction.

Any attempt to try and define the complex relationship that exists here as merely one thing or another, or to simply slap on a blanket definition and have done with, invariably falls apart due to contradictory evidence. Throughout the book, children are routinely treated harshly and often viciously, with beating and other forms of corporal punishment dolled out with regularity. One particularly revealing example of this is during the scene when Sid breaks the sugar bowl and Tom is blamed for it, sent “sprawling to the floor” by Aunt Polly’s “potent palm” (54). In this brief interaction, there is not even a second taken by Aunt Polly to figure out the situation. Her first and automatic reaction is to employ violence, then, when the truth of the matter is revealed and her error made known for her, she offers no apology; quite the opposite in fact, she states that Tom must have been up to “some other [audacious] mischief” that would have earned him the same reaction (54). The implication in all of this is quite clear: children are nuisance, always up to something, always guilty of some crime, and always deserving of some punishment. There is also a subtler, more sinister element in play here, that being the implication of infallibility in the adults, the idea that they are always one step ahead of the younger generation and are not to be argued with. This last idea becomes more and more relevant when one starts to look at the relationship as a whole, and realizes that it in fact conforms to nearly all the hallmarks of classic imperialism.

This scene with the sugar bowl also illustrates another of the important, negative factors at play: the fact that there is little to know automatic trust between children and adults. This is further shown as the book continues, particularly in the case of Dr. Robinson’s death at the hands of Injun Joe. Tom and Huck have seen murder before their very eyes, but there is not even the suggestion that they could simply tell an adult that Injun Joe killed Robinson; no one would believe them (96). At the same time as all of this mistrust and cruelty however, there is also an equally strong value placed on children, as well as a great desire to civilize them and tame their unruly way, as shown clearly by the scene in which Tom attempts to trick his teachers and claim a bible. Here, the Judge gives Tom a long-winded sermon about living a good life, but nearly all of his time is spent in self-congratulation. He gives all the credit for Tom’s achievement (he is still unaware of the boy’s duplicity) to the other adults, the teacher and even the Bible, propping up his own ego and sense of self-importance on the idea that he has helped a child (64). Childrens’ worth is further demonstrated by the almost ridiculous demonstrations of misery and grief put on display when the town thinks that Tom, Huck, and Joe have drowned. Here again however, the focus is not on the children themselves, but rather on the adults’ reactions to them, and the way in which the adults use the idea of the children for their own purposes (140-141). Children who are beaten then showered with false praise, told to shut up then to perform, molded to be just like adults, but still exploited by them. To try and define a relationship as multi-layered and complex as this with a single label is patently fruitless. The best way to understand this contradictory mire of confused feelings and attitudes is view the relationship in toto through an entirely different lens, one that would eventually become a very important topic for Twain himself: that of an imperialistic cultural annexation.

While this claim may seem dubious at first, deeper examination reveals that wealth of evidence extant. The primary impulse of the adults seems to be to replace the way of life the children have constructed for themselves with their own, and to do so by force under the banner of “civilizing” them, the quintessential reasoning and justification of classic imperialism. The first fundamental thing to understanding this idea is the realization that the children are not lawless, as the adults seem to assert. Huckleberry Finn, the clear “juvenile pariah” as he is labeled, is “hated…by all the mothers” and warned against explicitly because he is “bad” and “lawless” (73). This is simply not the case. In the same manner as nearly all colonialist empires who seek to assert their own way of life over another group, the adults strive to portray the children as savage and wild, but also as, most importantly, lawless and in need of a civilizing force. In classic imperialist fashion, what is ignored is the fact that the children are not lawless, as the adults seem to assert. Like all peoples who have faced external imperial threats, the children have their own way of life that is unknown to the adults, and often seen as antithetical. And, again like native peoples invaded by an imperialist society, this autonomously operating culture is quite sophisticated, with its own systems of government and religion. Despite what one might initially think, the same is true for Tom and his friend.

These same “lawless” children actually follow an incredibly complex code of rules, one that is never even written down but is automatically known by all, shown first and quite clearly when Tom and Joe Harper commanded their armies, where everyone follows the same set of rules for the highly organized game, and cheating or breaking these rules is as unthinkable as breaking a genuine law (52). These children are not the disorganized savages that the adults, using the language of subjugation and cultural annexation, portray them as. An even more important scene in this regard is when Tom, Joe, and Huck are on the island and decided to switch from being pirates to being Indians. By this point, Tom and Joe have already had rather terrible experiences smoking, but, according to the rules of the game, the “three hostile tribes” could not make peace without smoking a peace pipe; there is “no other process that…they had ever heard of” (138). There is not even a second where any of the three boys seems to realize that what they are simply playing a game or can change the rules to suit their desires. To them, these are not just silly childhood rule; they are laws, as unbreakable as those against theft in the adult sphere of life. Religion is also not to be neglected. Tom, who is denigrated as “thick-headed” for his inability to memorize bible verses, has crammed into his head likely over a hundred different superstitions and belief, all stemming from the isolated world of the St. Petersburg children (58). This set of superstitions is no fun game for them; each one is taken as literal and unquestionable truth the same way religion is by the adults, and, again like religion, there is no clear place from whence these superstitions sprung, despite the fact that all the children seem to know them by heart. Again and again, the suggestion is clear: the adults’ drive to “civilize” the children and bring them into their world is not merely the case of those in authority teaching those who do not know, but is instead the deliberate attempt, knowingly or otherwise, to eliminate one group’s way of life and replace it with another. This could function as a primer for the quintessential imperialist drive.

Lastly, it is of extreme relevance to note the ways in which the adults respond to the children, and how here too, the imperialist suggestion is rock solid. The boys and girls of St. Petersburg are neither foolish nor lawless, following extremely complex sets of rules for even the simplest of games and remembering vast amounts of wildly specific information. Acting out the imperialist narrative, the adults seek to eradicate and replace this way of life with their own, using as their tools the hallmarks of aggressive colonialism: brutal violence coupled with religious indoctrination. The excesses of corporal punishment have already been touched on above, but the way in which the adults manipulate religion to serve their own purposes is equally noteworthy. Without even mentioning the fact the adults use Christianity as a scare tactic to force the children to behave (hell is made very real in their imaginations and they are taught to fear death), the adults, and especially those in possession of power, use religion as a system of reward and praise. When Tom tricks his teachers into thinking that he has memorized enough verses to earn a bible, the Judge’s praise is extremely revealing. He states that Tom will be “a great man” when he grows up, and that this fact will be entirely owning to both “the good Superintendent” and “a splendid elegant bible” (64). These words could have been taken directly from any missionary brought in to bring a native population under the sway of the church. Contained here is praise for playing the adult’s game, validation of Tom’s achievements by an authority figure by means of promising that he will be “great” when he loses his identity as a child and becomes an adult, and, most similar to imperialistic rhetoric, the credit is given back to a person or being of higher rank, reinforcing in the childrens’ minds that they are subservient beings. In all of these case and many more, the complex and difficult-to-understand relationship between adults and children in Tom Sawyer can be perhaps best understood if the entire narrative is taken as an analogy for the evils and problematic nature of classic imperialism.

Works Cited

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Edited by John C. Gerber et al., Berkeley, U of California P, 1980. 6 vols.