The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

mark twain delphiA glittering hero…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Set in Missouri sometime around the 1830s, Twain gives us a joyous romp through the lives of some of the boys, and even a couple of the pesky girls, growing up in the small town of St Petersburg. This is a world long, long before health and safety and overprotective parents where, when they’re not being forced to attend school or Sunday School, the boys can let both their bodies and their imaginations run wild –and oh, how they do! Tom is a natural leader – the one with the imagination and, I suspect, a liking for sensationalist pulp fiction. So when the boys aren’t being pirates, that’s only because they’re planning on how to become robbers or deciding who should be Robin Hood and who the Sheriff of Nottingham.

“…Tom said “Where this arrow falls, there bury poor Robin Hood under the greenwood tree.” Then he shot the arrow and fell back and would have died, but he lit on a nettle and sprang up too gaily for a corpse.”

It’s during a midnight trip to the graveyard (to throw a dead cat after the devils, obviously) that Tom and the little vagabond Huck Finn witness the horrific crime that provides the running storyline and the darker edge to the book. Scared that they’ll be killed if they tell what they saw, the boys can’t avoid feeling guilty when the wrong man is arrested and about to be hanged. But fortunately there’s always romance to take Tom’s mind off things…

“Say, Becky, was you ever engaged?”
“What’s that?”
“Why, engaged to be married.”
“Would you like to?”
“I reckon so. I don’t know. What is it like?”
“Like? Why it ain’t like anything. You only just tell a boy you won’t ever have anybody but him, ever ever ever, and then you kiss and that’s all. Anybody can do it.”
“Kiss? What do you kiss for?”
“Why, that, you know, is to – well, they always do that.”

TomSawyer-006A wonderfully warm-hearted book, Twain’s gently humorous and affectionate portrayal of the children is stopped from descending into sentimentality by his sly ridicule of the customs and manners of society, as seen through the microcosm of this small town. No-one is safe from his gaze, however respectable a position they may hold – not the poor minister as the boredom of his sermon is brightened for the boys by the advent of an unruly poodle, not the unfortunate teacher who must pay handsomely with the loss of his dignity for the crime of making the boys study. The boys’ belief in all kinds of old wives’ tales provides plenty of fun while allowing Twain to indulge in some gentle mockery of superstition. And Huck’s views on attempts to turn him into a respectable child give Twain the opportunity to poke fun at the restrictions polite society forces on itself…

“Well, I’d got to talk so nice it wasn’t no comfort – I’d got to go up in the attic and rip out awhile, every day, to git a taste in my mouth, or I’d a died, Tom. The widder wouldn’t let me smoke; she wouldn’t let me yell, she wouldn’t let me gape, nor stretch, not scratch, before folks -” (Then with a spasm of special irritation and injury) – “And dad fetch it, she prayed all the time!”

I found myself smiling throughout, frequently laughing aloud and occasionally gasping as Twain would suddenly throw Tom and his friends into danger and fear. I read this book when I was a young teenager and remembered enjoying it for the adventures, but as an adult I got much more out of Twain’s sneaky sideways swipes at society in general. The writing is wonderful – almost goes without saying – and greatly enhanced by the masterly use of dialect and idiom. Funny, insightful and hugely entertaining – a true classic.

“The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through with a relish, in a peculiar style that was much admired in that part of the country. His voice began on a medium key and climbed steadily up till it reached a certain point, where it bore with strong emphasis upon the topmost word and then plunged down as if from a spring-board:

Shall I be car-ri-ed toe the skies, on flow’ry BEDS of ease,
Whilst others fight to win the prize, and sail thro’ BLOOD-y seas?”

PS – As a little aside, I couldn’t help making comparisons to my own childhood favourite Anne of Green Gables. The lack of parents, the imaginative child always falling accidentally into trouble, the school romance… Of course, Anne and her friends were just pesky girls, so behaved much, much better than these awful boys (and were much cleaner, generally speaking) but I did wonder if LM Montgomery had been influenced by this earlier book. And sometimes Twain’s observational drollery, like the quote above about the minister, reminded me strongly of Dickens in humorous vein…

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45 thoughts on “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

  1. An exceptional review! I’ll tell Bob he was mentioned. 😀

    Of course, the professor has a favourite sentence: “A wonderfully warm-hearted book, Twain’s gently humorous and affectionate portrayal of the children is stopped from descending into sentimentality by his sly ridicule of the customs and manners of society, as seen through the microcosm of this small town.” Wonderfully crafted!

    So, overall, did you like it better than The P & the P?

    It’s funny that you find the girls pesky…


    • Thank you, kind sir! Yes, definitely preferred it to The P & The P. Much more humour and, though I didn’t think The P etc was particularly preachy, in this one the ‘messages’ are seamlessly hidden inside the humour – meaning you can enjoy it as straight fun, if you choose. I’m glad you persuaded me to re-read it – I really had forgotten (or maybe didn’t spot) how good it is! 😀


        • Haha! Yes! That’s why I had to put that quote in…

          However, I was deeply disappointed that Tom never called Becky Chicky-Woot-Woot – a missed opportunity, I felt…


            • That is unfortunate, indeed! But look on the bright side – we could always dig him up and beat him over the head…

              I call them pesky girls because in those days either girls really were pesky or (unlikely though it seems) all male authors were sexist porcines. The girls are always weaklings, cowards and ooh, they cry so much, so much! Becky must have sobbed a couple of gallons worth at least…


            • She is a bit pathetic, isn’t she? But in comparison to most of Dickens’ heroines, she’s really quite brave and strong…

              I do hope my dear Professor isn’t suggesting today’s girls are wimpy weaklings? That would be a very brave thing to suggest – but also very foolish… 😉


            • Yes, but so is Huck, you know.

              Oh dear. But you needn’t worry about it since you’re not a girl anymore.

              The professor has always been brave…and maybe–just a hair, mind you–foolish.


            • Well, I am obviously – as you know, I am eternally 21. (Although oddly, I do remember Depity Dawg very well…must have been from a past life…)

              But with the Professor I fear the problem is the opposite – the poor old soul’s memory is obviously fading as a result of extreme ageing.


            • I suppose the reverse of that question could be asked. Is BigSister OLD ENOUGH to remember Depity Dawg? She does seem to remember Doyle’s historical fiction, which means–according to this professor’s review–that she remembers the 40’s…

              This professor is timeless, if you must know.

              Eternally 21, FF? You’re not stretching the truth, are you?


            • Just before BigSister reveals her age with her usual candidness, I’d like to point out that the age gap between us is HUGE. In fact, it’s so huge, it’s almost biologically impossible!!! (Note to self: bribe BigSister…)

              OK, you caught me out – I’m really eternally 20, O timeless one. 😉


            • But if I said yes, how would you know whether you should take that seriously?

              However, my best advice would be to almost never take me seriously, except when I’m being serious. 😉


            • So…let’s just clarify the situation…lay out the pros and cons, so to speak…

              On the one hand, the Professor wants to know my age…hmm!

              On the other hand, and on another thread, the Professor is refusing to reveal a secret that FF really wants to know…hmm!

              On the third hand (Who said I was talking about a human?) the Professor wants FF to tell him where she gets all the smileys…hmm!

              On the fourth hand, the Professor lives too far away to bribe FF in the usual way – with copious supplies of chocolate…hmm!

              Somehow, the scales don’t seem to be balancing terribly well here…

              But OK, I’ll admit to being somewhat older than 21 – is that better?


            • Ahem! Not the forties, Prof – not even I go back quite that far. And FF is MUCH younger, of course (still thinking about that bribe ,FF).


            • Here’s the deal. Okay, I relent. The Sh….’s thing isn’t near as perplexing–or important–as you make it seem. Just merely glance down the list of character profiles, and I’m sure you’ll see something that catches your eye. Then come tell me what you found out.


            • Ok, you deserve a reward. But I just can’t bring myself to do the age thing – the numbers on my keyboard don’t go up that high – so you’ll need to be satisfied with the smilies…

              Stick www. in front of this…


  2. I always loved his sardonic sense of humour. And this book is particularly good in that department. I love the way Clemens was able to hold up a mirror to his society – and a rather daring one at that. Don’t want to fall into egg-sucking territory, but did you know that other authors of his day (e.g. Louisa May Alcott) thought he took things too far for ‘nice boys and girls.’ I actually respect him for his approach.


    • No, I didn’t know that, though I suppose I can see why they might have thought so. But much though I love Little Women, Twain’s children seem much more real and timeless than Alcott’s – with the possible exception of Jo, who was the only one who was really allowed to have faults. And although he does make fun of society, it seems to me he does it affectionately on the whole – not nearly as bitterly as Dickens for instance.

      I’m enjoying rediscovering him as an adult – these really are books that can be read quite differently by children and adults and work just as well for both.


      • Oh, I agree completely about the differences between Twain’s children and Alcott’s. Interesting you’d have that view about Jo; I see exactly what you mean, too. She really is the most well-rounded of the characters isn’t she? And yes, I believe you’re right about the difference between Twain’s and Dickens’ approaches to making social statements. Twain has a sense of humour and as you say, even affection. Dickens is more bitter. And I always think it’s interesting to re-read a book as an adult and see just how universal its appeal is. Twain’s books have that kind of appeal in my opinion.


        • One of the unexpected joys of blogging – it would probably never have occurred to me to read Twain if it weren’t for other bloggers praising him. Next up, Huckleberry Finn in a few weeks time – my memory is that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Tom Sawyer as a child. I’m keen to see what my adult self makes of it. 🙂


  3. I read an abridged version of ‘Tom Sawyer’ when I was in elementary school and it might be the first book that I ever read. It was my favourite for a long time and it was a favourite of my family too – I think it is one of the few books that everyone at home has read. As a boy, I had so many favourite scenes from the book. Reading your review made me feel nostalgic. It is making me want to read the book again. Thanks for this nice review.


    • This one I enjoyed thoroughly! I hadn’t read it since I was quite a young child, so it was like coming to it completely fresh. Hope you enjoy your re-read as much as I did! 🙂


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