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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Tom Sawyer

When the novel begins, Tom is a mischievous child who envies Huck Finn’s lazy lifestyle and freedom. As Tom’s adventures proceed, however, critical moments show Tom moving away from his childhood concerns and making mature, responsible decisions. These moments include Tom’s testimony at Muff Potter’s trial, his saving of Becky from punishment, and his heroic navigation out of the cave. By the end of the novel, Tom is coaxing Huck into staying at the Widow Douglas’s, urging his friend to accept tight collars, Sunday school, and good table manners. 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.

Yet Tom’s development isn’t totally coherent. The novel jumps back and forth among several narrative strands: Tom’s general misbehavior, which climaxes in the Jackson’s Island adventure; his courtship of Becky, which culminates in his acceptance of blame for the book that she rips; and his struggle with Injun Joe, which ends with Tom and Huck’s discovery of the treasure. Because of the picaresque, or episodic, nature of the plot, Tom’s character can seem inconsistent, as it varies depending upon his situation. Tom is a paradoxical figure in some respects—for example, he has no determinate age. Sometimes Tom shows the naïveté of a smaller child, with his interest in make-believe and superstitions. On the other hand, Tom’s romantic interest in Becky and his fascination with Huck’s smoking and drinking seem more the concerns of an adolescent.

Whether or not a single course of development characterizes Tom’s adventures, a single character trait—Tom’s unflagging energy and thirst for adventure—propels the novel from episode to episode. 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

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain created a character who exemplifies freedom within, and from, American society. Huck lives on the margins of society because, as the son of the town drunk, he is pretty much an orphan. He sleeps where he pleases, provided that nobody chases him off, and he eats when he pleases, provided that he can find a morsel. No one requires him to attend school or church, bathe, or dress respectably. It is understandable, if not expected, that Huck smokes and swears. Years of having to fend for himself have invested Huck with a solid common sense and a practical competence that complement Tom’s dreamy idealism and fantastical approach to reality (Tom creates worlds for himself that are based on those in stories he has read). But Huck does have two traits in common with Tom: a zest for adventure and a belief in superstition.

Through Huck, Twain weighs the costs and benefits of living in a society against those of living independently of society. For most of the novel, 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. After Huck saves the Widow Douglas and gets rich, the scale tips in the direction of living in society. But Huck, unlike Tom, isn’t convinced that the exchange of freedom for stability is worth it. He has little use for the money he has found and is quite 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 (Twain reserves the conclusion of Huck’s story for his later novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

Injun Joe

Injun Joe is Tom Sawyer’s villain. His actions are motivated, from beginning to end, by unadulterated malevolence. When Injun Joe explains his motivation for revenge against Dr. Robinson and later against the Widow Douglas, we see that his personal history involves others mistreating and excluding him. Yet the disproportion between the wrongs Injun Joe has suffered—at least as he enumerates them—and the level of vengeance he hopes to exact is so extreme that we aren’t tempted to excuse his behavior. In contrast, Muff Potter’s misdeeds are inconsequential compared to the punishment he stands to receive. One might also compare Injun Joe to Sid: both are motivated by malice, which they paper over with a convincing performance of innocence.

Though his appearance changes when he disguises himself as a deaf and mute Spaniard, Injun Joe undergoes no real character development over the course of the novel. He never seems to repent for his crimes or change his spiteful outlook. His reappearances in different parts of the novel help to provide a thread of continuity, as they bring the murder-case plot, the treasure-hunt plot, and the adventures-in-the-cave plots together into a single narrative. Injun Joe’s presence also adds suspense to the novel, 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.

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Tom Sawyer

by muymuymuymuy, December 06, 2012

The key to reading this book is to concentrate on the anwsers and actually analyze what they are saying.

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33 out of 80 people found this helpful

Just a bit of advice....

by fieldhockeylover101, March 25, 2013

If u have a big exam on this novel coming up.......instead of reading all the chapter analysis's,read the overall anylsis, quotes and come up with the most important charcters and write out WHO they really are. Just a helpful idea.......!

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16 out of 19 people found this helpful

Important.. Read!

by _hi123, April 09, 2013

After chapter 17, all the chapters are one chapter behind. So chapter 19 is under chapter 18 and so on. I am not positive if this goes on through the rest of the chapters but I know that after chapter 17, this does happen. Hope this helps!

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21 out of 25 people found this helpful

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