Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - and the American Dream

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2002

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Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and the American Dream

2. Introduction

In my term paper I want to deal with the subject “Mark Twain “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and the American Dream”. In order to explain my results, I want to begin with the description of my procedure.

My first step will be a quite long biography of Mark Twain, since there are many important details concerning the themes I want to treat. Moreover, the literary epoch seems important to me to help the reader to put himself in the place of the author and to be able to imagine the circumstances in which he lived. Equaly important is the summary of the book to get an idea of what the book is about. The main part of the analysis that follows is based on my own ideas, influenced from the outside and some other inspirations. But the others are attributed to the duty of my term paper. As a result of the limitation of written pages, it is impossible to mention all kinds of different aspects of this book. As far as I am concerned, I tried to treat the most important ones (in my opinion).

3.1 Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Mark Twain, christened as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born on November 30, 1835 in a small river town of Florida, Missouri. As the sixth child of John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton, he grew up in the middle of a small-town life in Florida until the age of four, when his family moved to Hannibal, an unusual river town of 2000 inhabitants, hoping for a better living situation. Twain was a Southerner whose both parent’s families have their origins in Virginia. “But the slave-holding community of Hannibal provided a mix between rough frontier life and the southern tradition, a lifestyle that influenced Twain’s later writings including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer””1.

In his childhood, Mark Twain was a pert and intelligent adventurer like his own character Tom Sawyer. He learned to smoke at the age of nine although he was troubled by sickness at an early age.

He was the leader of a small group of boys ( and perhaps girls) who played tricks to other people. But the most hated object in his life was school. After his father died in March 1847, he formally quit school (at the age of 12).

After he had learned as an trainee in a printer’s shop, he worked for his brother (Orion) at the Hannibal Journal and he soon became interested in the newspaper business. As he became sub-editor, he also took part in the “frontier humour” that prospered in journalism at that time: “tall tales, satirical pranks, and joke”2. But in the next few years he became restless because he was unable to save his money and was too wasteful.

In June 1853, he finally decided to take a job in St. Louis and to leave Hannibal. Twain prefered wandering around as a journalist between New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Iowa instead of settling in St. Louis. But afterwards he changed his profession in order to realize an old dream of his childhood of becoming a river pilot.

At the age of 24, under the instruction of Horace Bixby who was pilot of the Paul Jones, Mark Twain became a licensed river pilot. He earned a high salary by navigating the river waters, but after a while he has his doubts about his own position, because it means traveling around and never settling down. But in 1861, he was forced to stop his navigating because of the beginning of the Civil War (1861-1865).

When he returned to Hannibal, Twain learned how to organize military companies in order to help Governor Jackson. Afterwards he signed up to be a Confederate soldier. But soon after, he quit the military service and moved West. When he traveled to Nevada, twelve years after the Gold Rush, he first wanted to wander around and examine the rich mining for silver and gold. But after his resources decreased and he was unsuccessful in his search, “he once again picked up his pen and began to write”.3

As he joined the staff of the “Virginia City Territorial Enterprise”, he became an established reporter/humorist and finally adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain in 1863, which was a Mississippi River phrase meaning “two fathoms deep” describing safe navigating conditions. “After moving to San Francisco, California, in 1864, Twain met American Writers Artemus Ward and Bret Harte, who encouraged him in his works”4. In 1865 Twain wrote the story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”which he had heard in the Californian gold fields and used it in the book, and only in a few months both became a national sensation.

“In 1867 he lectured in New York City, and in the same year he visited Europe and Palestine”5. These travels were the background for Twain's first book of travel letters entitled “The Innocents Abroad”which was published in 1869. “This book was full of critical reception and is seen as discouraging Twain from the literary life”6. It exaggerates the typical aspects of European culture that impress American tourists. In the following years he wrote many different articles, made lecture tours and commuted between San Francisco, New York, and Missouri. But a highlight of these years was his first introduction to Olivia Langdon, whom he married on February 2, 1870. Even in the same year, their first son, Langdon Clemens, was born.

The debts of the family soon grew higher and higher until the “American Publishing Company” asked for another book. The reason was that over 67,000 copies of “The Innocents Abroad”were sold within its first year. And after Olivia's conviction, the couple moved to the domicile town of Hartford, Connecticut, where Twain wrote “Roughing It”, a documentation of the post-Gold Rush mining epoch published in 1872.

It looked as if they succeeded in life, and the birth of their first daughter, Susan Olivia, seemed to complete it.

But soon their misery came up again, with the death of Langdon (as a result of Diphteria) and the only weak success of “Roughing It”. “Twain, himself, received the blame for his son's death”7. A turning point in Mark Twain’s career came by publishing “The Gilded Age”. He wrote the novel in collaboration “with Charles Dudley Warner about the 1800s era of corruption and exploitation at the expense of the public welfare”8. “The Gilded Age”was his first broad work of fiction and “introduced him into the literary world as an author rather than journalist”9.

After the success of “The Gilded Age”, Twain started a period of concentrated writing and in 1880, his third daughter, Jean, was born. At the age of fifty, he wasalready considered as a successful writer and businessman. His popularity rose with “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”(1876),”The Prince and the Pauper”(1882),and“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”(1885).Twain’s work during the 1890s and the 1900s is marked by growing pessimism and bitterness, as a result of his business set-backs and, later, the deaths of his wife and two daughters. By then, he was considered among the greatest character writers in the literary community.

Twain survived his wife Olivia and his three children Langdon, Susan and Jean and finally died on April 21, 1910.

Twain’s work was inspired by the unconventional West, and the popularity of his work marked the end of the domination of American literature by New England writers. He is famous as a humorist but was not always appreciated by the writers of his time as anything more than that. His sticking to American themes, settings, and language set him apart from many other novelists of his time and had a powerful effect on later American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Both of them saw Twain as an inspiration for their own writings. With his death tons of letters, articles and fables were published, like: “The Letters of Quintas Curtius Snodgrass”(1946);“Simon Wheeler, Detective”(1963);“The Works of Mark Twain: What is Man? and Other Philosophical Writings”(1973);“Mark Twain's Notebooks and Journals”(1975-79).To sum up, Mark Twain is not only seen as an author, he was a personality that defined an area, perhaps more than any other classic American writer.

Other works of Mark Twain include:

-“Punch, Brothers, Punch! and Other Stories”(1878)

-“A Tramp Abroad”(1880)

-“The Stolen White Elephant”(1882)

-“Life on the Mississippi”(1883)

-“A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court”(1889)

-“Merry Tales”(1892)

-“Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”(1896)

-“How to Tell a Story and Other Essays”(1897)

-“A Dog's Tale”(1904)

-“Is Shakespeare Dead?”(1909)

3.2 Literary epoch (Realism and Naturalism)

“Mark Twain is often called a regionalist for his lively portrays of Southern character and dialect”10. However, Mark Twain is regarded as one of the greatest American realists because he scrupulously included so many apects of his own life in his works and refused to beautify the reality (or the bad sides of life). Realism of place and language, memorable characters and his hate of hypocrisy and oppression are typical signs of Twain’s writing. The publishing of his works took place from 1865 until 1910, but his biggest success was rooted in the 19th century, a century full of crises of racism, class conflicts and poverty. The short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”,published in a newspaper in 1865, was his first story including some of the best American humour.

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”(1786) and“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”(1884), Twain’s best-known works, seem to be only simple stories, but they include accusations of corruption at all levels of society. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer celebrated boyhood at the same time that it cleverly shows the workings of small-town America- small minded at times, generous in spirit at other times”11. The realistic description of the psychology and the moral development of his two young characters, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, shows the genius of Mark Twain. The tradition of the individual American character, for whom the natural and spiritual sources were more important than the conventions of social life, was deeply influenced by him. In the late-19th- century, marked by naturalist and realist traditions, Mark Twain was a noticeable American writer. 12

3.3 Summary

The book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”by Mark Twain deals with the adventures of a boy called Thomas Sawyer.

Tom lives with his aunt Polly, his half-brother Sid, and his cousin Mary in the small and pretty town St. Petersburg, next to the Mississippi River. In contrast to his brother Sid, Tom often gets a beating from his aunt because of the nonsense he makes. He often skips school and gets out of his bedroom at night to have adventures with his friend Huckleberry Finn. Despite his hate of school, Tom is a clever boy who normally will not get punishments for his acts, if Sid does not always tell on him.

As a punishment for skipping school, Tom has to whitewash the fence. He succeeded in convincing the other boys by a simple trick: he tells them that it is fun to whitewash the fence, and also gets some “treasures” for his laziness. In school, Tom tries to attract attention by disturbing and playing tricks to other pupils. His special intention is to catch the eye of Becky Thatcher, the Judge’s daughter with whom he fell in love. But he ruins their relationship by telling her that he got engaged with another girl before.

One night, Tom and Huck go to the town’s graveyard, expecting it to be full of ghosts, to carry out a special ritual. As voices approach, the two boys hide, and see three men (Injun Joe, Muff Potter and Dr. Robinson) robbing a grave. When they pick a fight, Injun Joe kills the doctor and blames Muff Potter for it, who passed out. Fearing Injun Joe and what they have seen, Huck and Tom swear to keep silent about the night’s events.

The next day Tom gets into trouble, because of his leaving last night and in school, Becky will not recognize him. Angry and hurt, Tom, Joe Harper and Huck decide to run away to Jackson Island since they have enough of normal society. When the boys are missing, the people suppose that they are drowned in the river due to the discovery of a ship without passengers. Being a little bit homesick after a few days, Tom swims back to the village to inform his aunt that he is still alive. But on the contrary, he hides and listens to a conversation between his aunt and Joe’s mother, in which they make plans for their funerals. The boys wait until the day of their funeral and attend it, until they reveal that they are still alive.

At school, they are treated like heroes, but Tom can’t win Becky’s heart back until he catches her reading the schoolmaster’s book and preserves her from punishment by saying it was him. After the beginning of the holidays, Muff Potter’s trial starts. The town inhabitants are already convinced, that it was him who assassinated the Doctor. Tom and Huck have a bad conscience concerning the murder and they fear Injun Joe and his revenge. When the trial begins, Tom is called to the witness stand, and to the surprise of all, Tom tells everything he knows about the murder. But Injun Joe can escape and Muff Potter is set free.

One day, Tom and Huck decide to dig for buried treasure at the old haunted house on Cardiff Hill. When they start it, they are surprised by two men, one of them is later recognized as Injun Joe disguised as a Spaniard. The two discuss about a “revenge job” and that they plan to hide a bag of 6 hundred dollars in the haunted house and to meet back there. But when they try to do this, they discover a box of buried treasure that has already been hidden in the house by a gang of robbers. To make it difficult for others to find it (because they heard a sound), they use a pseudonym for their hiding place. Full of expectations, Tom and Huck want to go on treasure hunt.

Becky, who returns to the town, holds a picnic for all of her friends. During this, the children explore the cave with its numerous secret underground passages. Becky and Tom separate themselves from the others and get lost. Meanwhile, Huck observes Injun Joe, but he is not very successful until the two men step out and go towards the haunted house. But instead of entering it, they go towards the Widow Douglas’s house in order to torture or even kill her. Remembering the kindness of her, Huck runs for help and the two are chased away. The news of the missing children shocks the whole town, and they all concentrate on praying and searching for Tom and Becky. In the cave, the two have already lost all hope of getting out of it and being rescued. They have completely lost all sense of direction. But Tom tries to comfort Becky and to find a way out. Exploring a passageway, Tom sees a man and shouts at him, but it was Injun Joe and he instantly stands still. But finally Tom’s persistence gets a reward by discovering a hole to escape.

After the save return of the children, the cave is locked. Later, when Tom learns of it, he tells the Judge that Injun Joe is in the cave. But as they open the door, Injun Joe has already died of starvation.

When the two children meet again, Tom informs Huck that he knows where the treasure is buried. They return to the cave, search the treasure and recover it. As they return, they meet the Widow Douglas, who wants to express her gratitude towards Huck for saving her life, by offering him a home and good education. But Tom joins in by telling the others about the money they have found. After a while Huck can’t stand living a “normal life” and escapes. But Tom convinced him to come back and stay there only to be admitted in Tom’s gang of world-class robbers.

4.1 The correspondences between Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer grew up in a small rivertown at the shores of the Mississippi. Twain lived in Hannibal, Missouri and Tom Sawyer’s small town is called St. Petersburg. The two towns were quite small, Hannibal had only 2000 inhabitants, and so you can say that everybody knows everyone. In the book it is also proved, because the whole village takes part in the search of the missing children, furthermore all cry when they think the children are dead. Both, the author and the main character, are influenced by the southern tradition. Twain was a mischievous boy, the prototype of his own character, Tom Sawyer. It is said that you can still see in Hannibal, the town where Mark Twain grew up, the white painted fence in front of his old home; according to chapter 2 in the book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in which Tom is forced by his aunt to whitewash the fence. As in the book, Tom learned to smoke from Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain started smoking at the age of nine. He was the leader of a small band of boys who played tricks to other people. Tom Sawyer had some friends, Huckleberry Finn and Joe Harper, with whom he experienced many adventures, too. For example the three run away to an island and finally return to their own funeral. But the most important correspondence between both is, that most of all, they hated school. For Mark Twain and his main character it was a torture because they didn’t see the use of school. Both loved the river and later, Mark Twain realized his old boyhood dream, also mentioned in the book ”The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, of becoming a river pilot. Tom’s digging for a buried treasure can also be compared with Mark Twain’s life. On his way to Nevada (12 years after the gold rush), Twain wanted to examine the rich mining for silver and gold. To conclude, you can say that Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain have many characteristics in common.

4.2 Tom Sawyer and his American Dream

Typical for Tom Sawyer are his many different dreams of the future. He changes his wishes of different professions suddenly and very often. Once he wants to become a circus clown, and only a short time later a soldier just to be recognized and to be glorious. Afterwards to become an Indian seems to him the right profession for taking revenge on the people annoying him. But something more important for him is being a pirate. In his opinion a brightly future is ready to be discovered and he will be the greatest and most awful pirate ever. Everybody would be scared of him and he would be a sensation for his small village. Finally he decides to run away from home and to become a pirate , but when he searches for his “treasure” he meets his friend Joe Harper and so Tom forgets everything, while playing Robin Hood. Afterwards, as Tom thinks nobody loves him and he is badly hurt by Becky, he escapes and wants to become a pirate for the second time. He meets again Joe Harper who thinks like him and with Huckleberry Finn, the three found a group of pirates and run away to Jackson Island to have a better life there. But an important reason for Tom is the freedom they have there. No adult who forces them to do the things they don’t want to do, and nobody who controls his way of acting. As the two other boys become homesick and want to leave the island, he is the one to hold them back for having a new experience. That’s the reason why they return for their own funeral and don’t tell anybody that they are alive. After returning to normal life, Tom’s new attempt is joining the new order of Cadets of Temperance. As his holidays become boring, he founds with Joe Harper a band of performers and they were happy for two days. Afterwards the boys played circus for two days. One day a desire comes upon Tom, like in every boy’s life, to go somewhere and dig for a burried treasure. A typical feeling, considering the time and place of Tom’s life. Furthermore, his drive for adventures and discoveries, involves him in difficult situations. For example his examination of the cave, forces them to stay there for days until they can rescue themselves. The last thing to mention is the fact how Tom convinces Huck to stay with the Widow Douglas by threatening him with not introducing him the his gang of robbers. That is what both want to become in the future, world-class robbers.

But there is something else to mention concerning Tom’s American Dream.

You can say, that for Tom the definition of freedom is the life of his friend Huckleberry Finn. Huck has everything that makes life desireable in his eyes. “Tom was, like all the other boys, envious of Huck because of his gaudy outcast condition”13. Huckleberry came and went, at his own free will. He did not have to go to school or to church, or “call any being master or obey anybody. He could stay out as long as it suited him”14, he could sit up as late as he pleased, and nobody forbade him to fight. He never had to wash, nor put on clean clothes. And the most impressing liberty in his life was, for Tom, that he could swear freely and wonderfully.

From the point of view of the “normal” boy Tom, Huck is the ideal person to be identified with his own dreams and aims.

To sum up, Huckleberry Finn personifies Tom’s personal American Dream.

4.3 Tom’s ideas of suicide

After Tom ruins his relationship to Becky Thatcher, and becomes heartbroken, he thinks about the use of life and suicide. For him it must be fine to be under the earth and sleep peacefully and dream. “If he had a better Sunday-school record, he could be willing to go and be done with it all”.15He thinks about Becky and that he had meant the best in the world, and had been treated like a dog. “One day they would be sorry, maybe when it was too late. He would give everything if only he could die temporarily”.16He creates plans about turning his back and disappearing mysteriously, or going far away into unknown countries and never coming back anymore. Furthermore he creates plans about his future and returns into reality. When Tom gets in trouble because of his escaping at night and Becky pays no attention to him at school, it is the second time for Tom to think about being dead. He is moved by gloomy and desperate ideas. “He feels as if he is a forsaken, friendless boy and nobody loves him. When the others found out to what they have driven him, perhaps they would be sorry. He had tried to do right and get along, but they would not let him. He wants them to blame him for the consequences because they had forced him to lead a life of crime”.17As he heard the bell for the school, he sobbed because he was sure that would never hear that sound again. It was hard to him, but he thought he was forced to do this. “They had him driven out into the cold world, so he must submit, but he forgave them”.18When he met Joe Harper who took part in the same destiny, they plan to run away.

In my opinion Tom’s ideas of suicide are only a getaway from oppression. He has not really the intention to kill himself, he only thinks about how it would be and how the others would react. With these thoughts he can liberate his soul from all pressure that rests upon him. His ideas of killing himself are not the same that other people committing suicide have. Their most frequent reasons are that they see no use in life any longer and think that their problems are too big for being solved. For young people suicide seems to be an adventure, they are curious about what comes after the death. So Tom’s ideas are not very realistic, they only help him to get away from normal life.

5. Conclusion

Writing the term paper about “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”by Mark Twain has never been an easy work. The book contains so many aspects of different themes that it was hard to decide which one to deal with. For me it was interesting to see how Mark Twain processed his own experiences in this book and in his main character Tom Sawyer. That is the reason why the biography of Mark Twain is quite long. So you have the chance to compare the two lives distinguishedly. In the preface of his book Twain himself says that “most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred”.

The idea of treating the subject of suicide was given to me by a newspaper article we read in our German lesson. The article dealt with the subject of suicide and how the press could influence teenagers. With the long and hard work on this term paper many things became more clearly. When you first read the book you do not get to know how many aspects the book includes. For example, if I had not read the newspaper article, the theme of suicide would not have come to my mind. To make the work more extensive, other interesting subjects to be treated could be:

- the relationship between Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher

- the portrait of Huckleberry Finn

- Tom’s hatred against school

The work on that book has helped me to understand the numerous attitudes at that time. It shows the wishes and hopes of the children and simultaneous the incidents under which they had to live. On the other hand there is a lot of criticism concerning the society in this book.

In my opinion the book is not only written for boys and girls, it could also be interesting for adults, because it reminds them of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt, thought and talked.

From my point of view, writing a term paper contains many difficulties. It is not very easy to express yourself in the way you mean it. Sometimes it is the vocabulary/grammar that misses, otherwise the ideas. Or it is simply the formal structure of the text. In my case, it was often the computer that got me on the nerves.

To sum up I have to say that it was an interesting experience to write a term paper, but it costs a lot of time.

6. Bibliography

NORTON,Charles A. : Writing Tom Sawyer , The Adventures of a Classic.

Mc Farland & Company, Inc., Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina, and London 1983.

TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Bantam Classic edition, March 1981. 4


1, 2






11, 12 compare:

13 TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, page 42

14TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, page 42

15TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, page 56

16compare: TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, page 57

17compare: TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, page 84

18 compare: TWAIN, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, page 84

13 of 13 pages


Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - and the American Dream
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Stephanie Schmidt (Author), 2002, Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - and the American Dream, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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