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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

author  Samuel Clemens, usually known by his pen name, Mark Twain

type of work  Novel

genre  Concerned with Tom’s personal growth and quest for identity, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer incorporates several different genres. It 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.

language  English

time and place written  18741875; Hartford, Connecticut

date of first publication  The novel appeared in England in June 1876, and six months later in the United States.

narrator  An adult who views the adult world critically and looks back on the sentiments and pastimes of childhood in a somewhat idealized manner, with wit and also with nostalgia

point of view  The narrator narrates in the third person, with a special insight into the workings of the boyish heart and mind.

tone  Satirical and nostalgic

tense  Past

setting (time)  Not specified, but probably around 1845

setting (place)  The fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri (which resembles Twain’s hometown of Hannibal)

protagonist  Tom Sawyer

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.

themes  Moral and social maturation; society’s hypocrisy; freedom through social exclusion; superstition in an uncertain world

motifs  Crime; trading; the circus; “showing off”

symbols  The cave; the storm; the treasure; the village

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.