Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man’s are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men’s misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling . . . He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet[.]
The narrator describes a scene in which Tom Sawyer’s youthful character reveals itself as he becomes easily distracted from his troubles by a new interest in and skill for whistling. Even though these lines compare Tom’s troubles to an adult’s problems, Tom’s solution of whistling symbolizes his youthful spirit. Clearly, Tom Sawyer encounters adversity and gets upset, but ultimately, the resources of youth will win out.
He had had a nice, good idle time all the while—plenty of company—and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash, he would have bankrupted every boy in the village . . . Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.
The narrator presents Tom’s mischievous and clever personal qualities when Tom not only finds a way to avoid his fence-painting chore, but also profits off of the evasion. Soon after convincing other boys that he was lucky to have the chance to whitewash the fence, Tom is leisurely watching others work while collecting items from them. While this action reveals Tom’s naughty, lazy character, his intelligence, and ingenuity seem quite impressive.
The boy whose history this book relates did not enjoy the prayer, he only endured it—if he even did that much. He was restive all through it; he kept tally of the details of the prayer, unconsciously—for he was not listening, but he knew the ground of old, and the clergyman’s regular route over it—and when a little trifle of new matter was interlarded, his ear detected it and his whole nature resented it; he considered additions unfair, and scoundrelly.
Tom Sawyer’s character struggles between his individuality and society’s expectations throughout the novel, and as the narrator reveals here, Tom’s aversion to organized religion causes him the most turmoil. Tom sits through church because his aunt and the village as an entity expects him to. However, he does not enjoy standardized prayer, and instead, longs for freedom. Although Tom’s sharp mind unconsciously tracks the preacher’s deviations from ritual, he clearly does not have a focus on religion.
The harder Tom tried to fasten his mind on his book, the more his ideas wandered. So at last, with a sigh and a yawn, he gave it up. It seemed to him that the noon recess would never come . . . Tom’s heart ached to be free, or else to have something of interest to do to pass the dreary time.
Tom’s feelings towards school and studying as revealed by the narrator further display the conflicts his individualism creates with society’s expectations. Even though Aunt Polly and the villagers expect Tom to focus on his education, his mind wanders to anything else, especially an escape to nature and adventure. During this novel’s time period, school consisted of rote learning, leaving no room for imagination or freedom of thought, conflicting entirely with Tom Sawyer’s personality and character.
Tom dodged hither and thither through lanes until he was well out of the track of returning scholars, and then fell into a moody jog. He crossed a small “branch” two or three times, because of a prevailing juvenile superstition that to cross water baffled pursuit. Half an hour later he was disappearing behind the Douglas mansion on the summit of Cardiff Hill, and the schoolhouse was hardly distinguishable away off in the valley behind him.
The narrator explains how, after a trying day at school and a fight with Becky, Tom escapes to nature, leaving his troubles behind him. In this emotional flight, Tom also reveals his youthful, superstitious beliefs as he crosses an outlet several times to avoid pursuit. By disappearing behind the Douglas mansion on the summit of Cardiff Hill, Tom escapes society, looking to nature for comfort.
Tom’s mind was made up now. He was gloomy and desperate. He was a forsaken, friendless boy, he said; nobody loved him; when they found out what they had driven him to, perhaps they would be sorry; he had tried to do right and get along, but they would not let him; since nothing would do them but to be rid of him, let it be so; and let them blame him for the consequences . . . Yes, they had forced him to it at last: he would lead a life of crime.
Here, Tom’s inner thoughts demonstrate his role as a romantic character through his youthful reaction to life, his vivid imagination, and his reliance on nature for solace. After struggling with various life experiences, Tom jumps to an extreme conclusion, declaring that he will run away and lead a life of crime. Tom’s emotional reaction and eventual escape to become a pirate on Jackson Island support his categorization as a romantic hero.
Now the boy stole out, rose gradually by the bedside, shaded the candlelight with his hand, and stood regarding her. His heart was full of pity for her. He took out his sycamore scroll and placed it by the candle. But something occurred to him, and he lingered considering. His face lighted with a happy solution of his thought . . . Then he bent over and kissed the faded lips[.]
As Tom sneaks home during his time away on Jackson Island, he displays his genuine love for his Aunt Polly, as described here by the narrator. As he checks on her and leaves her with a kiss, he clearly feels bad for letting her think he is dead. However, at the same time, Tom’s mischievous and youthful selfishness leads the way in his choosing the fun of a surprise resurrection over relieving Aunt Polly’s grief.
Every reference to the murder sent a shudder to his heart, for his troubled conscience and fears almost persuaded him that these remarks were put forth in his hearing as “feelers”; he did not see how he could be suspected of knowing anything about the murder, but still he could not be comfortable in the midst of this gossip. It kept him in a cold shiver all the time.
As the murder trial of Muff Potter comes to court, Tom’s suffering conscience also returns. The narrator describes how Tom struggles with not revealing the truth of what happened in the cemetery, displaying his moral character. Not only does Tom worry about being caught lying, he fears Injun Joe’s retaliation and feels guilty about letting Muff Potter take the blame for something Tom knows he did not do.
Tom lay upon a sofa with an eager auditory about him and told the history of the wonderful adventure, putting in many striking additions to adorn it withal; and closed with a description of how he left Becky and went on an exploring expedition; how he followed two avenues as far as his kite line would reach; how he followed a third to the fullest stretch of the kite line, and was about to turn back when he glimpsed a far-off speck that looked like daylight[.]
The narrator describes the scene in which Tom recounts how he and Becky finally get out of the caves after being lost for days. His elaborate retelling of their adventure reveals Tom’s youthful imagination and hero-like personality as he soaks up the attention of their escape. However, in reality, Tom was a hero, showing genuine love and concern for Becky while demonstrating his creative intelligence and resourcefulness in finding a way out of the caves.
Just as dead earnest as I’m a-sitting here. But Huck, we can’t let you into the gang if you ain’t respectable, you know.
At the end of the story, Tom Sawyer convinces Huck Finn to return to society by offering him membership in his gang of robbers. While this gang symbolizes individualism, his ultimatum that Huck must be “respectable” to join shows that Tom does value the role of society. Tom has struggled between individualism and society throughout the novel, but he demonstrates his compromise in these final moments.
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