The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is, with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another book from the same author, one of the most famous novels of American literature and the world at large. The author uses the imaginary town of St. Petersburg to situate the story of a mysterious, intelligent, and adventurous young boy Tom. Tom Sawyer runs away from his aunt Polly alleging that the house chores assigned to him by Aunt Polly were too tedious for him. His interesting escapes become adventures for some and misadventures for others. All these packaged in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer first published in 1875.


Mark Twain is considered by many readers as the greatest American humorist ever. Besides being a writer, publisher, he was a lecturer and entrepreneur.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has appealing and persuasive themes that help readers understand the hidden messages in it. The novel has influenced a lot of people, movies, and plays. It remains popular and relevant more than 130 years after publication. The novel greatly revolutionized America Literature with its strong points of view, dialects, skillful depictions, and its unique and timeless themes.


An imaginative and mischievous boy named Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother, Sid, in the Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri. After playing hooky from school on Friday and dirtying his clothes in a fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence as punishment on Saturday. At first, Tom is disappointed by having to forfeit his day off. However, he soon cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work. He trades these treasures for tickets given out in Sunday school for memorizing Bible verses and uses the tickets to claim a Bible as a prize. He loses much of his glory; however, when, in response to a question to show off his knowledge, he incorrectly answers that the first two disciples were David and Goliath.

Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get “engaged” to him. Their romance collapses when she learns that Tom has been “engaged” before—to a girl named Amy Lawrence. Shortly after being shunned by Becky, Tom accompanies Huckleberry Finn, the son of the town drunk, to the graveyard at night to try out a “cure” for warts. At the graveyard, they witness the murder of young Dr. Robinson by the Native-American “half-breed” Injun Joe. Scared, Tom and Huck run away and swear a blood oath not to tell anyone what they have seen. Injun Joe blames his companion, Muff Potter, a hapless drunk, for the crime. Potter is wrongfully arrested, and Tom’s anxiety and guilt begin to grow.

Tom, Huck, and Tom’s friend Joe Harper run away to an island to become pirates. While frolicking around and enjoying their newfound freedom, the boys become aware that the community is sounding the river for their bodies. Tom sneaks back home one night to observe the commotion. After a brief moment of remorse at the suffering of his loved ones, Tom is struck by the idea of appearing at his funeral and surprising everyone. He persuades Joe and Huck to do the same. Their return is met with great rejoicing, and they become the envy and admiration of all their friends.

Back in school, Tom gets himself back in Becky’s favor after he nobly accepts the blame for a book that she has ripped. Soon Muff Potter’s trial begins, and Tom, overcome by guilt, testifies against Injun Joe. Potter is acquitted, but Injun Joe flees the courtroom through a window.

Summer arrives, and Tom and Huck go hunting for buried treasure in a haunted house. After venturing upstairs, they hear a noise below. Peering through holes in the floor, they see Injun Joe enter the house disguised as a deaf and mute Spaniard. He and his companion, an unkempt man, plan to bury some stolen treasure of their own. From their hiding spot, Tom and Huck wriggle with delight at the prospect of digging it up. By an amazing coincidence, Injun Joe and his partner find a buried box of gold themselves. When they see Tom and Huck’s tools, they become suspicious that someone is sharing their hiding place and carry the gold off instead of reburying it.

Huck begins to shadow Injun Joe every night, watching for an opportunity to nab the gold. Meanwhile, Tom goes on a picnic to McDougal’s Cave with Becky and their classmates. That same night, Huck sees Injun Joe and his partner making off with a box. He follows and overhears their plans to attack the Widow Douglas, a kind resident of St. Petersburg. By running to fetch help, Huck forestalls the violence and becomes an anonymous hero.

Tom and Becky get lost in the cave, and their absence is not discovered until the following morning. The men of the town begin to search for them, but to no avail. Tom and Becky run out of food and candles and begin to weaken. The horror of the situation increases when Tom, looking for a way out of the cave, happens upon Injun Joe, who is using the cave as a hideout. Eventually, just as the searchers are giving up, Tom finds a way out. The town celebrates, and Becky’s father, Judge Thatcher, locks up the cave. Injun Joe, trapped inside, starves to death.

A week later, Tom takes Huck to the cave, and they find the box of gold, the proceeds of which are invested for them. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, and, when Huck attempts to escape civilized life, Tom promises him that if he returns to the widow, he can join Tom’s robber band. Reluctantly, Huck agrees.

Social maturation and morals

Tom in the novel is always in childhood pranks, make-believe games, and goofing around. Initially, these games have little to no consequences because he is just a kid. However, as he grows older, the consequences of such a lifestyle begin to impact him negatively. On one occasion, he leads Joe Harper, Becky Thatcher and Huck into a dangerous cage where they almost get lost. Fortunately, he realizes himself and develops social maturity. In another instance, he puts the interest of Becky ahead of his and volunteers to take her punishment. He also decides to testify on Joe’s trial even when he knows the negative consequences of it. He shows his increasing development, competence, empathy, good morals, integrity, and maturity by helping others instead of himself.

Tom grows into maturity when he leaves the community and travels to Jackson Island and McDougal cave. This journey exposes him to lots of troubles that help him understand life in a different dimension, and he returns to the village with a better outlook.

This theme teaches us the importance of self-development and maturity. In the beginning, Huck was much more matured and older than Tom. However, Tom was able to reinvent himself and later became more intelligent and wise than Huck. And in one instance, he insisted on Huck’s face that he does not need to flee social constraints.  The theme of social maturity has a lot of useful lessons for children and adults alike. Maturity comes through self-development. Self-development brings more balance into our lives, enables us to gain people’s trust and respect, keeps us away from dangers/conflicts, and enables us to achieve in our goals and aspirations.

Hypocrisy in society

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has incredible lessons on the hypocrisy of society and the wicked nature of adults. The author Mark Twain elaborately criticized the negative values and practices of adults. Leaders play a crucial role in sustaining a healthy society and also establishing social structures. However, if they are hypocritical in their actions, they would harm society. The book teaches that adults need to have integrity, without which most organizations and society would fail. If an organization lacks integrity, it would not attract top talents, retain workers, or retain its customers. When a leader has integrity, the admirers will develop integrity as well, and the spillover effect will benefit the entire society and promote a healthy place for everyone.

Psychologically, people need to trust that the organizations they belong to have their long-term interests at heart. This can only be achieved with integrity. Otherwise, they would become unwilling to make an effort on the organization or society’s behalf. This is exemplified in strikes and union walkouts.

When employees start to feel the organization doesn’t have integrity, value their efforts, or isn’t committed to their wellbeing or growth, they will begin to disengage. In modern society, hypocrisy and childishness abound in schools, religious groups, public opinions, law, and lots more. Mark Twain perfectly explains how social authorities do not operate with wisdom; instead, they operate with bias, inconsistent to principles, and also defaults the rules that bound the society.

Transition to adulthood

Most of the novel is centered on the childishness of Tom and Huck and how they eventually transitioned from childhood to adulthood. The novel teaches that growing up is one of the most critical and challenging stages of every child. The theme of transitioning to adulthood is also the most apparent in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom has no proper supervision while growing up and would always play like a child. This gets him into numerous troubles. In several instances, the company he mingles with influences his actions. Huck teaches Tom how to smoke, how to steal, and how to tell lies. The book teaches the importance of adult guidance and the role of parents in a growing up child.

Parents have an important role to play in the building of their children’s attributes. The novel teaches that parents should guide their children in modeling effective behaviors and attitudes. This they can achieve by giving the child good attention and making the child feel important. When we neglect and abandon children, their friends may influence them negatively.

At a young age, children do not have enough experience to make critical decisions that affects them as they grow up. Parents must shoulder the responsibilities of educating and encouraging their children as they transit to adulthood. Lack of parental guidance affects Huck so much. Although he is just a little boy in most parts of the novel, he starts developing adult mentality, thoughts, and actions at a very young age. He frequently tells Tom how he does not have enough food to eat. He would also encourage Tom to hide found items instead of returning it to the owner or testifying.


At the beginning of the novel, Tom has to escape from his Aunt Polly because she does not handle him correctly. He has to steal a jam and other items because Polly overworks him without giving him proper nutrition. Tom and Huck escaped and met Muff Potter, who is a friendly fisherman and loves the company of children. He teaches them how to fish and mends their kites as well.

Even before Tom finally sets off into the sunset, he would always avoid home by playing hooky whenever possible. When he leaves the house, he would only return at night in other to avoid the monotonous routines at home. He would always fantasize about unrealistic things and pick up superstitious beliefs in other to keep going. Negative books and the people he mingles with influence his thought process so much.

In today’s society, many parents are heartbroken when their children run away from home and become wayward. However, there are measures parents can take in other to prevent this from happening. Children today go into all forms of social vices, which include drugs, cigarettes, crime, and lots more. With attention and love, such ills can be mitigated for the well being of the children.

When your child goes astray, you have to accept that something is wrong. The situation will only get worse if you pretend about it, as illustrated in the book. Always take a critical look at the concerns of your children. Ensure you do not create too many requirements for a child. Once you discover your child is going astray plead and advise them rather than rebuking them all the time.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is among the finest written by Mark Twain alongside The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. It teaches so many great lessons and remains relevant in the 21st century. Mark Twain died in 1910, but the adventure of Tom Sawyer remains in print up to this day.


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