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Literature / The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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[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), first published in 1876.

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, and the now mostly-forgotten sequels Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective.

Since the copyrights on the work have expired, the book is in the 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 with Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher, 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 a 1980 anime version by 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, from the way Huck tells it, is The Alcoholic. This is why Huck is rarely seen at home, and often found wandering around the outskirts of the city with nothing to do — Huck doesn't want to go back home to get yelled at and beaten.
  • Affection-Hating Kid: Huck Finn. When he, Tom and Joe crash their own funeral, Aunt Polly realizes he had no family to miss him and lavishes affection on him, dismaying him much more than if he really had been neglected.
  • The Alcoholic: Huck's dad drinks himself into so much of a stupor that he becomes an Abusive Parent. As such, Huck rarely goes home if he can avoid it because he doesn't want to deal with his father's mean temper when he's drunk..
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Tom's biggest concerns are having to do chores and getting in trouble with the adult authority figures in his life. It's Lampshaded. And then Subverted in later chapters when he has to deal with age-inappropriate angst of a kind that would make a grown man quake in his boots, namely witnessing a murder and having to weigh the cost of testifying to absolve someone who was falsely accused, thereby incriminating the real murderer, who definitely Would Hurt a Child.
    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.
  • The All-American Boy: Downplayed. Tom has most of the qualities that fit, but he doesn't share the patriotism or faith in God typically associated with this kind of character.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Tom's younger half-brother Sid actively tries to get him in trouble. Tom is always looking for chances to even the score, such as by throwing dirt clods at him. At the end of the book, Tom rips into Sid for revealing Huck as the one who tipped off the Welshman about Injun Joe's plan to attack the Widow Douglas:
    "Sid, there's only one person in this town mean enough to do that, and that's you. If you had been in Huck's place you'd 'a' sneaked down the hill and never told anybody on the robbers. You can't do any but mean things, and you can't bear to see anybody praised for doing good ones. There—no thanks, as the widow says"—and Tom cuffed Sid's ears and helped him to the door with several kicks. "Now go and tell auntie if you dare—and to-morrow you'll catch it!"
  • The Artful Dodger: Huckleberry Finn. While not homeless, his home life is so bad that he avoids going home as much as he can thanks to an alcoholic father.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: A strong contender for the Trope Codifier. After sneaking away from town to play pirates, Tom, Huck, and Joe discover that everyone thinks they've drowned. Learning when they plan to give up the search for the bodies and hold a funeral, Tom decides that the three should slip back into town and show up at the service that day. It works beautifully.
  • 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 Bad: Injun Joe. Threatening Tom's life makes him the central opposing force.
  • 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.
  • Boring Religious Service: Chapter V has a sermon given by the minister of the local church. It is so dry, monotonous and droning that the audience's heads begin to sleepily nod during it.
  • Boys Like Creepy Critters: While Tom is in church he plays with a "pinchbug" ("large black beetle with formidable jaws") he had caught earlier. He and his friend Joe Harper later play with a tick at school.
  • Breakout Character: Huckleberry Finn. Tom's book is still considered good, but Huck's book is considered an all-time classic of American literature.
  • Buried Alive: Injun Joe starves to death when the cave is sealed up to keep more children from getting lost in it. No one knows he's inside until it's too late.
  • Cat Concerto: Invoked. Tom and Huck meow to signal each other when they want to sneak out late at night. Huck complains about one instance in which he meowed for so long that a man started throwing rocks at him and exclaimed, "Dern that cat!" Huck retaliated by throwing a brick through the man's window.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tom accumulates loot in the form of various odds and ends which the other kids offered him in exchange for whitewashing the fence. Later on, Tom trades pieces of his loot to the Sunday school children in exchange for tickets (given out for memorizing Scripture verses) and trades these in for a Bible.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Tom and Becky do this. Then Becky is heartbroken when she finds out that Tom has, in fact, been engaged before.
  • The Compliance Game: Tom managed to have his friends pay for the privilege of repainting his fence by claiming it was a game.
  • Cool Big Sis: Mary, despite being Tom's cousin, fills in this role, being more amused than annoyed at Tom's antics than her mother.
  • 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.
  • Creepy Cave: A massive cave, based on a real cave system in Missouri, lurks in the background of the story. In the climax, Tom and Becky get lost in the cave and must find their way out, braving bats, darkness, and the man who turns out to be in there with them. Becky is so scared by the cave that she becomes basically nonfunctional, requiring Tom to get them out. After their escape, the cave is sealed by local parents to prevent a similar incident, unknowingly trapping the main antagonist inside, where he is later discovered having died of hunger.
  • Delinquents: Huck is seen as this by the rest of the town; naturally, Tom and his friends idolize Huck.
  • Demoted to Extra: After crashing his own funeral alongside Tom and Huck, Joe Harper fades into the background for the rest of the story.
  • 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's and Mary's fathers—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.
  • DIY Dentistry: When Aunt Polly discovers that Tom has a loose tooth that is causing him pain, she ties one end of a thread to it and the other to a bedpost. Then she shoves a hot coal into his face, scaring him into jumping backward so that the tooth is yanked out.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: In-Universe, there are women who treat Injun Joe like this and want him pardoned.
  • False Confession: When the school teacher's anatomy book is torn by Becky, Tom confesses to it instead to spare her the beating from the teacher.
  • Fence Painting: Trope Namer. Tom convinces one boy after another that he likes whitewashing the fence, even though it was a chore assigned to him by his Aunt Polly. Tom ends up tricking every boy in the village this way, whereupon they trade knickknacks for a chance to take part.
    "[Tom] 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 obtain."
  • Forced into Their Sunday Best: In an early chapter, Tom's cousin Mary makes him dress formally for Sunday school, including wearing shoes. Later, Huck when the widow tries to civilize him.
  • Free-Range Children:
    • It's mentioned that parents only worry if their kids don't come home for two or three nights in a row. Huck's dad, from the way Huck tells it, is The Alcoholic. This is why Huck is rarely seen at home, and often found wandering around the outskirts of the city with nothing to do — Huck doesn't want to go back home to get yelled at and beaten.
    • 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: Huck is the id, unrestrained and free. Becky is the superego, respectable and restrained. Tom is the ego between them.
  • 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, Tom's Love Interest. It doesn't pan out.
  • Good Behavior Points: The Sunday school gives tickets to students for memorizing Bible verses. Two verses are worth a blue ticket, ten blue tickets are worth one red, ten red are worth one yellow, and any child who accumulates ten yellow tickets (requiring 2,000 verses) can trade them in for a Bible. Using the odds and ends he acquired by trading away the chance to whitewash the fence, Tom racks up enough tickets to get a Bible. Mary has earned two of them, and a German boy has four or five.
  • 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 isn't the fastest or strongest kid in town, but he's one of the smartest. Even with his reputation as a known troublemaker, Tom manages to talk his way into just about whatever he wants.
  • Guilty Until Someone Else Is Guilty: Muff Potter is accused of the murder of Dr. Robinson—an allegation he doesn't contest because Joe plants a knife in his hand while he's knocked out cold (after being hit by a grave marker) and convinces him that he committed the murder while drunk. No one doubts his guilt after he's arrested, and at his trial his defense attorney initially plans to plead for mercy because Potter was drunk. The attorney suddenly changes his mind and calls a Surprise Witness: Tom, who had been at the graveyard that night with Huck and who testifies that Injun Joe killed Robinson. Potter is acquitted, and Joe flees the courtroom.
  • 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 originally intends to introduce this defense on account of his client's drunkenness, but changes his mind and instead calls Tom to testify as a Surprise Witness.
  • 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. He's willing to stand up in court and identify Injun Joe as the killer of Dr. Robinson, doing the right thing despite the danger to himself in doing so (he is justifiably terrified of Joe). Perhaps most telling is Aunt Polly's comment to herself when she discovers the letter he was planning on giving her to explain his absence:
    "I could forgive the boy, now, if he'd committed a million sins!"
  • Karma Houdini: Sid reaches for the sugar bowl, which slips out of his hands. When Aunt Polly comes into the room, she knocks Tom to the floor, while Sid manages to get away with breaking a sugar bowl without getting punished.
  • The Load: Becky panics so much when she and Tom get lost in the cave that she becomes this.
  • Look Behind You: In the first few pages, Tom is just about to be beaten with a switch by his Aunt Polly for stealing jam, but Tom pulls this trope and escapes.
  • Loveable Rogue: Tom is one of the first juvenile examples in American fiction.
  • 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.
  • Out Sick: The reason why Sid isn't present in the picnic scene is because he's sick and can't go.
  • 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.
    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.
  • Playful Pursuit: After Tom gets Becky Thatcher to say "I love you" to him, she springs away from him and runs around and around the desks in the schoolroom with Tom chasing her. When he catches up to her, he puts his arms around her neck and asks for a kiss.
  • Puppy Love: Tom and Becky have a very innocent romance going.
  • 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.
  • The Savage Indian: Injun Joe is a straight example. He's not only a cold-blooded killer (as Tom witnesses first-hand), but he Would Hurt a Child. And if Tom doesn't send an innocent man to jail in Injun Joe's place, Tom's as good as dead.
  • Schmuck Bait: Becky is tempted to open the teacher's desk when she sees the key in the lock, as the entire class is curious to find out what Mr. Dobbins's book is about.
  • Selective Enforcement: Inverted; Sid gets his hands on the sugar bowl, which slips out of his hands and falls to the floor. Tom decides not to snitch on his brother and remain silent; even though Tom was innocent this time, Aunt Polly unfairly knocks Tom to the floor, even though Sid got off the hook when he handled and dropped the sugar bowl. She reckons that Tom has probably committed some other act of mischief.
  • Sneaking Snacks: Tom tries to steal sugar from under his aunt's very nose, and has his knuckles rapped for it.
  • 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.)
  • 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 find it, as a matter of fact.
  • Treated Worse than the Pet: When Tom identifies a dog as "Bull Harbison," Twain adds a note to the reader that if Mr. Harbison owned a slave by that name, he would be "Harbison's Bull."

Alternative Title(s): Tom Sawyer