Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Go To

[Tom] was not the Model Boy of the village. He knew the model boy very well though — and loathed him.
Chapter 1

A classic novel written by American novelist Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens).

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is about the young Tom Sawyer and his adventures growing up in the mid-western United States of the 1840s, specifically, the mythical St. Petersburg, Missouri. (The town is based on Twain's own Hannibal.) Tom and his buddies, particularly the local drunk's son Huckleberry Finn, chafe under the restrictions of elders and are always out for storybook-style escapades — whether it's trying to conduct a superstitious wart-removing ritual in a graveyard, treasure hunting, or a stint at piracy. But they stumble into true danger as well — Tom and Huck become witnesses to a murder committed by the sinister Injun Joe, and later Tom and sweet but feisty Becky Thatcher get lost in a massive cave...

This slice of Americana is also the precursor to the even more critically acclaimed Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The book is in public domain, and the full text is available online at Project Gutenberg.

There have been many adaptations of this novel over the years: Films for the big and small screens (in 1973 alone it yielded both a big-screen musical and a Made-for-TV Movie), a short-lived Broadway musical in 2001, a Direct-to-Video animated version with a Funny Animal cast, and an anime version for World Masterpiece Theater. Believe it or not, it's even been adapted into two games for the NES. One is a Platform Game developed by SETA and the other is a Role-Playing Game by Square that wasn't exported beyond Japan.


  • Abusive Parents: Huck's dad.
  • The Alcoholic: Huck's dad, Muff Potter, and Injun Joe.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Sid.
  • The Artful Dodger: Huckleberry Finn.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: A strong contender for the Trope Codifier.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Tom envies Huckleberry Finn for not having to wear shoes. Huck does own shoes, but until he's adopted no one cares about him enough to make him wear them, so he only does when it's cold.
    • But then, once Huck does receive shoes from Widow Douglas, he can't stand wearing them all the time.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Tom watches Becky drowsing off to peaceful slumber in the cave.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Mary to Tom (especially) and Sid.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Referenced: Injun Joe lies about the murder he committed, and Tom and Huck fully expect him to be struck down by divine lightning and are very surprised when he isn't. A briefer episode sees Tom missing out on a religious revival in St. Petersburg, and consequently thinking that a passing thunderstorm is out to get him.
  • Boys Like Creepy Critters: While Tom is in church he plays with a "pinchbug" ("large black beetle with formidable jaws") he had caught earlier. Later on he plays with it again at school, aided by his friend Joe Harper.
  • Break Out Character: Huckleberry Finn.
  • Cat Concerto: Invoked; Huck complains about a time that he had to stand around meowing to signal Tom until a guy started throwing rocks at him through a window and exclaiming, "Dern that cat!"
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Tom and Becky do this. Then Becky is heartbroken when she finds out that Tom has, in fact, been engaged before.
  • Cool Old Guy: The old Welshman, whom Huck gets to come and rescue Widow Douglas. He's a genial fellow who after the event becomes one of Huck's staunchest supporters.
  • Delinquents: Huck is seen as this by the rest of the town; naturally, Tom and his friends idolize Huck.
  • Disappeared Dad: We are told Tom's mother has passed away, though not when or how. What happened to his father — and for that matter what happened to Sid and Mary's dad — is never explained.
  • Disappointed in You: There is a passage where Aunt Polly starts crying and berating Tom. He thinks that for a moment, he hoped she'd just beat him.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: In-Universe, there are women who treat Injun Joe like this and want him pardoned.
  • Fence Painting: Trope Namer. Tom convinces one boy after another that he likes whitewashing the fence, whereupon they trade knickknacks for a chance to take part. Read it in all its glory.
  • Forced into Their Sunday Best: Tom in an early chapter, and later Huck when the widow tries to civilize him.
  • Free-Range Children: To the extent that parents only worry if their kids don't come home for two or three nights in a row. After a local girl's birthday party, one of the planned activities was letting the kids wander through a cave and its elaborate system of unexplored tunnels, a cave where more than a few people have gotten lost and died.
  • Freudian Trio: Tom (ego), Huck (id), Becky (superego).
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: Tom's schoolteacher calls him "Thomas Sawyer" when he's late. This gets Lampshaded.
    • Played with during the courtroom scene when Tom is called to the witness stand by his full name, surprising a lot of the people present at the trial for the murder mentioned below.
  • Girl Next Door: Becky Thatcher
  • Grave Robbing: This is what Dr. Robinson, Injun Joe and Muff Potter are doing in the graveyard until Joe murders Robinson. (Presumably for medical research, as the ringleader is a doctor.)
  • Guile Hero: Tom Sawyer
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The usual 19th-century usages of "gay" and "ejaculation" are peppered throughout the book.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Tom with Joe Harper (earlier in the story) and Huck Finn (later).
  • Inconvenient Itch: This happens to Tom Sawyer when he is trying to hide silently in the dark.
  • Insanity Defense: Muff Potter's lawyer said to the jury he wanted to introduce this defense in account of his client's drunkness before making Tom and Huck testify.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tom. He's quite often a terrible Jerkass, but all of these instances spring from thoughtlessness rather than any actual malice. When it comes down to it, he actually has a very powerful conscience and never wishes any serious harm on anyone. Perhaps most telling is Aunt Polly's comment to herself when she discovers the letter he was planning on giving her:
    "I could forgive the boy, now, if he'd committed a million sins!"
  • The Load: Becky panics so much when she and Tom get lost in the cave that she becomes this.
  • Loveable Rogue: Tom is one of the first juvenile examples in American fiction.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Injun Joe. He's even called "Half-Breed" several times.
  • Mutual Envy: Both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn put each other on pedestals, thinking the other the smartest person they know and wishing that they had the other's life.
  • Nobody Here but Us Birds: Tom and Huck use cat cries to signal each other.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Tom and Becky do this on each other.
  • Parental Abandonment: Huck's dad skipped town and left him to live on the streets. Huck is fine with this—his only fear is that his dad will show up again. Which he does, in Huckleberry Finn.
  • Parental Substitute: Tom lives with his maternal aunt and her family after the death of his mother.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Tom and his friends on their pirate adventure.
    As Twain notes, "So they inwardly resolved that so long as they remained in the business, their piracies should not again be sullied with the crime of stealing."
  • Performance Anxiety: Halfway through a strong recitation of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, Tom is overcome with stage fright.
  • Puppy Love: Tom and Becky, of course.
  • Relax-o-Vision: Tom once again tricks his fellow boys by winning a prize for Bible memorization in school, but doesn't expect that his teachers will actually test him on it. When asked who the first two disciples were, Tom panics and answers "David and Goliath". The narrator interjects with "Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene." End of chapter.
  • Stern Teacher: Mr. Dobbins. When it comes to Tom, whom he whips whenever he has a chance, he comes across as a Sadistic Teacher.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: When Injun Joe's corpse is found in the caves, Tom feels bad for him, since he knows what it's like being trapped in the cave.
  • Taking the Heat: Becky takes a peek on Mr. Dobbins's book and rips it by accident. When Dobbins is interrogating the kids to find out who did it, Tom says he's the one and takes the Corporal Punishment. (Which also places him back in Becky's good graces after a fight between them.)
  • The Savage Indian: Injun Joe
  • The Tooth Hurts: Tom has a toothache and Aunt Polly decides the tooth has to come out. She ties one end of a string to the tooth and the other end to a bedpost, then frightens Tom with a hot coal. When Tom jerks away, the string yanks out the tooth.
  • Treasure Map: In the sense of cryptographic signs; when Injun Joe and his accomplice are discussing where to move the Murrel gang loot, Joe says "We'll take it to my den…. Number Two—under the cross." The boys spend a good part of the rest of the book trying to find it. They do.
  • Tsundere: Becky is a type A.

Alternative Title(s): Tom Sawyer