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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: An Analysis of the Characters

Among all the illustrated pieces of American fiction, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer holds a special place. It not only is a fitting reflection of the American youths of the frontier era, but in recreating the mischievous world of boyhood, it succeeds in making every reader recall his bygone days that are quintessentially evergreen and pleasurable. The characters thus are increasingly ageless – they may represent an age gone by, but in essence, they belong to every period.

 A Breakdown of the Main Characters

Tom Sawyer

In the preface of this eponymous novel, Mark Twain asserts of having chalked out Tom’s character from real life experiences, based on his childhood pranks and naughtiness. Tom emerges as such, a very endearing character, much like the one all vivacious boys attempt to be before an inevitable onset of maturity. Tom vehemently dislikes Sunday schools and exhibits an ingenious mind by cooking up startling plans of cheating prudent Aunt Polly. A remarkable instance is the episode of whitewashing the fence, where, by making a depressing activity seem interesting, he manages to get the entire fence washed by his friends. All his dominant cravings, his dreams of being a good robber as Robin Hood, his desperation to show off before girls, or embracing the lazy lifestyle of his best buddy, Huckleberry Finn – are raging features of every boy standing on the brink of adolescence. He is also a thinking individual who saves Muff Potter by accusing Injun Joe of the guilt he had heinously committed. Similarly, his daring spirit comes forth in his struggle with Injun Joe. Ultimately, as Tom persuades Huck to stay at Widow Douglas’s, the reader gets an inkling of his transition – from the carefree wilderness of childhood to a life bound by social customs.

Huckleberry Finn

“The juvenile pariah of the village,” Huckleberry Finn is scorned by every adult in St. Petersburg for his wayward lifestyle. He smokes and swears, has no fixed place to sleep, and no assurance of a daily meal. His father, being the town drunk, never compels him to attend school or church and rebukes him for his idle ways. However, lack of parental guidance instills in him a common practicality to deal with every situation and adopt measures disregarding social customs and standards. Thus he confides in Tom of how “A body’s got to do things when he’s awful hungry he wouldn’t want to do as a steady thing,”  regarding his embarrassing but needed association with slaves like Ben Rogers and Uncle Jake.

Huck’s character exhibits a steady development with the progression of the plot. He demonstrates his noble intentions when he perseveringly waits outside the house of the Widow Douglas, to look for Injun Joe’s arrival and also later, when he seeks help from the Welshman to save her. It is only the lure of joining Tom’s gang of robbers that makes him accept the latter’s advice of adopting a civilized lifestyle. However, he remains skeptical of its worth, and it is uncertain of whether he lives up to it or not.

Injun Joe

This is the man who provides the novel its share of intense drama and suspense. Injun Joe represents the perpetual bad guy, who is bent on taking revenge on all those who had treated him poorly. It is true that being a half Native American and half Caucasian, he is a victim of ill-treatment, yet his diabolical villainy of killing Dr. Robinson and later his brutal scheme of murdering the Widow Douglas, prove too violent to offer him the reader’s sympathy.

Sketches of Some of the Secondary Characters

Mr. Dobbins

Mr. Dobbins is everything that a school teacher should not ever aspire to be. He delivers his chief frustration of not being able to be a doctor, by ruthlessly beating his students, who in return despise and mock him.

Sid Sawyer

As much as the reader enjoys going through the many exploits of disobedient Tom, perhaps the same amount of displeasure is encountered on discovering Tom’s half brother, Sid’s crafty ministrations in getting Tom punished. Hence, despite adhering to books and good manners, Sid fails to gather the reader’s admiration.

Description of the Primary Female Characters

Aunt Polly

Tom’s aging aunt is the ultimate autocratic guardian most pranksters come across while ascending the stairs of boyhood to adolescence. Just as she admonishes Tom for being disobedient, she is also enormously responsive towards his small achievements. Her other characteristic traits encompass, a religious bent of mind, kindheartedness, simplicity and superstitiousness.

Becky Thatcher

If Tom represents the novel’s typical hero, both charming and impish, then Becky is his ideal ladylove with her bright yellow hair, soft manners, and respectable background. Becky’s character lacks the vibrancy of Tom, with most of her actions being predictable; nonetheless, it is their bittersweet passion that renders the story endearing.

Mary Sawyer

Mary is Tom’s “saintly cousin,” who shields him from being punished, helps him to memorize the Bible verses and thus serves as a foil to his malicious brother Sid.

When The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in England, Twain wrote, “It is not a boy’s book, at all. It will only be read by adults. It is only written for adults,” thereby hinting at his deliberate portrayal of a world of unhindered freedom as opposed to the constraints of a morally depraved society. Nonetheless, the novel fabricates a kind of magic that enables it to be fondly treasured by both youths and adults until today.