Genre: Children’s, Classics
Narrative Style: Third Person Narrator
Synopsis: Tom Sawyer is a typical young boy, always in trouble and skipping school, despite the best efforts of his Aunt Polly to make him tow the line. However, his need for adventure soon gets him into real trouble when he gets trapped in a cave with a murderer and thief.
Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Children’s
This was a very enjoyable read. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when I was younger as I was obsessed with a TV version of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn which, even now, very much influenced how I saw the characters.
The story begins with some establishing pranks to let us see Tom’s personality. He is always dirty, will do anything to get out of work and prefers to use his intelligence to avoid anything that might involve learning. It is hard not to be charmed by him despite the trouble he causes Aunt Polly.
Tom is also hopelessly romantic as is shown by his infatuation with Becky Thatcher, the new girl in school. Tom reacts in the only way he knows how by showing off and generally getting into trouble. Their childish relationship is touchingly portrayed by Twain and he manages to portray how much it means to both of them without being patronising or overly sentimental.
Tom and Huck get into many scrapes. Having accompanied Huck to the graveyard to witness some superstitious ritual, they actually see a grave being robbed. When the robbery goes badly, Dr Robinson is killed by Injun Joe who flees the scene, leaving his accomplice, Muff Porter to take the blame. The boys swear they will not tell. There is a good deal of tension while Porter is in jail and then on trial for a murder he did not commit. In the end, Tom does the right thing and tells the truth. Porter is freed but there is no sign of Injun Joe.
Later on, Huck and Tom go searching for treasure and instead come across Injun Joe and his stash of stolen money. They resolve to find out where he is going to hide his money. While watching Injun Joe, Huck stops an attack on the Widow Douglas and becomes a hero. Meanwhile Tom and Becky get lost on a picnic and end up in a network of caves where they almost dies. During this, Tom is horrified to discover Injun Joe is in the caves with them.
Eventually, Tom finds a way out and as a precautionary measure the caves are sealed up. Tom is horrified and has to confess that he saw Injun Joe in the caves. Twain does not skimp on details that show how horrible his death must have been although there is little sympathy for him as he is a thief and a murderer.
Tom and Huck then sneak back into the caves and find the money which has been stolen. They have enough money to keep them comfortable for the rest of their lives. Huck has also been adopted by the widow and is finding civilisation a little uncomfortable. It is amusing – and I’m sure most young boys would sympathise – to find Huck sleeping in a barn again in his old scruffy clothes.
Twain has been accused of racism and the whole character of Injun Joe makes for slightly uncomfortable reading. Twain lets his characters speak their minds and they are not very open minded when it comest to native Americans. However, this does not mean Twain is racist. Authors are not synonymous with their characters and there is no doubt that characters such as these would have held these attitudes. More concerning is the portrayal of Injun Joe as completely unsympathetic and as Twain does not offer an alternative perspective, the character’s views are never challenged. Although Twain was an ardent supporter of abolition, he didn’t extend this to Native Americans and his views were much harsher. It is hard to know how judgmental to be and it is unfair to judge a man by standards not of his time. However, if he could see that Blacks should have equality, then it seems strange that he could not extend this to the Native Americans. It certainly makes the book less enjoyable.