Book Club: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

My son stood in the library searching for a “boy book” to read. I spied The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, which I wanted to start for the Bodacious Bloggity Book Club. I encouraged him to read it with me.

Years ago, my children and I watched the movie version of Tom Sawyer together. At the end of the movie, Becky Thatcher and Tom become lost in a dark cave and discouraged. Then Tom sees a way out. He goes forward toward that light, keeps climbing and finds an exit.

At the time, we stopped the movie and talked about this ending. I taught my children about symbols in literature and symbols in the scriptures. I told them that light is a symbol that is often connected with Jesus Christ. My son, NH, wasn’t more than five or six years old. And he said, “When we are in the darkness we can pray and we will be able to see the light so we can get out.”

The discussion left an impression on my son and on me. With that memory, I expected to read the book and experience those same feelings and have that discussion again. However, I was honestly a little disappointed that the book’s ending was more focused on the treasure the boys found in the cave than on Becky and Tom’s disappearance and rescue. Oh the problems of expectations!

Once I recognized that my disappointment was only from my memories, I could enjoy Mark Twain’s original story for what it is. It is very boyish, as I had told my son. And the author was true to his words from the preface:

Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.

My sisters and I used to talk about never forgetting what it is like to be a kid. I promised myself that, but how hard it is to remember that perspective when another one comes to replace it. As an adult woman I couldn’t relate to the rambunctious activities of Tom and Joe Harper and Huck, but it was fun to think that these same desires to be free and creative are the same ones that drive my son to build forts with the neighbors all summer long.

Tom’s manipulative enterprising tactics to get the other boys to paint the fence for him also amused me. How true it is that if you ask someone to pay for the privilege of work, that work becomes more valued. Doesn’t this relate to so many of our modern pleasures that only become valuable when we see the price that people are willing to pay? Then we are all prepared to be duped into lining up for our share.

I am often discouraged at adults in children’s books because they look so stupid from a child’s perspective and truly seem to be diminished in authority. As a parent I don’t ever think the author is doing other adults any service by painting them in such a silly way. I know, I need to not take myself or these portrayals too seriously. Knowing that about my self, this time I had fun looking toward Aunt Polly’s foibles and her qualities with delight. For instance, when Aunt Polly is questioning Tom, Twain as narrator gives this commentary,

Like many simple-hearted souls, it was her pet vanity to believe she was endowed with a talent for dark and mysterious diplomacy, and she loved to contemplate her most transparent devices as marvels of low cunning.

This made me laugh at myself a little bit and wonder at my own pet vanities, which more often than not include the same pride that Aunt Polly shows in her discipline methods. When she scolds Tom for breaking the sugar dish that Sid actually broke,

her conscious reproached her, and she yearned to say something kind and loving; but she judged that this would be construed into confession that she had been wrong, and discipline forbade it.

Despite these weaknesses that she had, I loved the tenderheartedness of Aunt Polly when she truly believes that Tom is in danger.

Over and again the book showed how we all battle with our conscious and our own desires and wills. That happened for Aunt Polly, it happened for Tom and Becky, and to some extent, in the conclusion, it even happened for Huck.

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1 Comment

  1. Rebecca
    Jul 30, 2008

    Oh I LOVE Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and every other imagination of Mark Twain! I love your insightful words about the book. There is so much to learn in literature!

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