'Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred; one or two were experiences of my own, the rest of those boys who were schoolmates of mine', Mark Twain wrote in the preface to the original 1876 edition. Inspired by his upbringing in a small township on the Mississippi, and written 'to 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', Twain's hymn to childhood and the great outdoors remains a classic account of boys on the loose in frontier-era America.
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About the Author
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri; his family moved to the port town of Hannibal four years later. His father, an unsuccessful farmer, died when Twain was eleven. Soon afterward the boy began working as an apprentice printer, and by age sixteen he was writing newspaper sketches. He left Hannibal at eighteen to work as an itinerant printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on Mississippi steamboats, advancing from cub pilot to licensed pilot.
After river shipping was interrupted by the Civil War, Twain headed west with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the Nevada Territory. Settling in Carson City, he tried his luck at prospecting and wrote humorous pieces for a range of newspapers. Around this time he first began using the pseudonym Mark Twain, derived from a riverboat term. Relocating to San Francisco, he became a regular newspaper correspondent and a contributor to the literary magazine the Golden Era. He made a five-month journey to Hawaii in 1866 and the following year traveled to Europe to report on the first organized tourist cruise. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867) consolidated his growing reputation as humorist and lecturer.
After his marriage to Livy Langdon, Twain settled first in Buffalo, New York, and then for two decades in Hartfort, Connecticut. His European sketches were expanded into The Innocents Abroad (1869), followed by Roughing It (1872), an account of his Western adventures; both were enormously successful. Twain's literary triumphs were offset by often ill-advised business dealings (he sank thousands of dollars, for instance, in a failed attempt to develop a new kind of typesetting machine, and thousands more into his own ultimately unsuccessful publishing house) and unrestrained spending that left him in frequent financial difficulty, a pattern that was to persist throughout his life.
Following The Gilded Age (1873), written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, Twain began a literary exploration of his childhood memories of the Mississippi, resulting in a trio of masterpieces--The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), on which he had been working for nearly a decade. Another vein, of historical romance, found expression in The Prince and the Pauper (1882), the satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), while he continued to draw on his travel experiences in A Tramp Abroad (1880) and Following the Equator (1897). His close associates in these years included William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and George Washington Cable, as well as the dying Ulysses S. Grant, whom Twain encouraged to complete his memoirs, published by Twain's publishing company in 1885.
For most of the 1890s Twain lived in Europe, as his life took a darker turn with the death of his daughter Susy in 1896 and the worsening illness of his daughter Jean. The tone of Twain's writing also turned progressively more bitter. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), a detective story hinging on the consequences of slavery, was followed by powerful anti-imperialist and anticolonial statements such as 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness' (1901), 'The War Prayer' (1905), and 'King Leopold's Soliloquy' (1905), and by the pessimistic sketches collected in the privately published What Is Man? (1906). The unfinished novel The Mysterious Stranger was perhaps the most uncompromisingly dark of all Twain's later works. In his last years, his financial troubles finally resolved, Twain settled near Redding, Connecticut, and died in his mansion, Stormfield, on April 21, 1910.
Date of Birth:November 30, 1835
Date of Death:April 21, 1910
Place of Birth:Florida, Missouri
Place of Death:Redding, Connecticut
Read an Excerpt
"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!"
The old lady puffed her spectacles down and looked over them and about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for "style," not service-she could have seen through a pair of stovelids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll--"
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat.
"I never did see the beat of that boy!"
She went to the open door and stood in it and looked out among the tomato vines and "jimpson" weeds that constituted the garden. No Tom. So she lifted up her voice at an angle calculated for distance and shouted:
There was a slight noise behind her and she turned just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his roundabout and arrest his flight.
"There! I might 'a' thought of that closet. What you been doing in there?"
"Nothing! Look at your hands. And look at your mouth. What is that truck?"
"I don't know, aunt."
"Well, I know. It's jam-that's what it is. Forty times I've said if you didn't let that jam alone I'd skin you. Hand me that switch."
The switch hovered in theair-the peril was desperate
"My! Look behind you, aunt!"
The old lady whirled round, and snatched her skirts out of danger, The lad fled on the instant, scrambled up the high board fence, and disappeared over it.
His aunt Polly stood surprised a moment, and then broke into a gentle laugh.
"Hang the boy, can't I never learn anything? Ain't he played me tricks enough like that for me to be looking out for him by this time? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. Can't learn an old dog new tricks, as the saying is, But my goodness, he never plays them alike, two days, and how is a body to know what's coming? He 'pears to know just how long he can torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows if he can make out to put me off for a minute or make me laugh, it's A down again and I can't hit him a tick. I ain't doing my duty by that boy, and that's the Lord's truth, goodness knows, Spare the rod and spile the child, as the Good Book says. I'm a laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know. He's full of the Old Scratch, but laws-a-me! he's my own dead sister's boy, poor thing, and I ain't got the heart to lash him, somehow. Every time I let him off, my conscience does hurt me so, and every time I hit him my old heart breaks. Well-a-well, man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble, as the Scripture says, and I reckon it's so. He'll play hockey this evening,* and I'll just be obleeged to make him work, to-morrow, to punish him, It's mighty hard to make him work Saturdays, when all the boys is having holiday, but he hates work more than he hates anything else, and Ive got to do some of my duty by him, or I'll be the ruination of the child."
Tom did play hookey, and he had a very good time. He got back home barely in season to help Jim, the small colored boy, saw next-day's wood and split the kindlings before supper-at least he was there in time to tell his adventures to Jim while Jim did three-fourths of the work. Torn's younger brother (or rather half-brother) Sid was already through with his part of the work (picking up chips), for he was a quiet boy, and he had no adventurous, troublesome ways.
While Tom was eating his supper, and stealing sugar as opportunity offered, Aunt Polly asked him questions that were full of guile, and very deep-for she wanted to trap him into damaging revealments. Like many other 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 tow cunning. Said she:
"Tom, it was middling warm in school, warn't it?"
"Powerful warm, warn't it?"
"Didn't you want to go in a-swimming, Tom?"
A bit of a scare shot through Tom--a touch of uncomfortable suspicion. He searched Aunt Polly's face, but it told him nothing. So he said:
"No'm--well, not very much."
The old lady reached out her hand and felt Tom's shirt, and said:
"But you ain't too warm now, though." And it flattered her to reflect that she had discovered that the shirt was dry without anybody knowing that that was what she had in her mind. But in spite of tier, Tom knew where the wind lay, now. So he forestalled what might be the next move:
"Some of us pumped on our hcads--mine's damp yet. Sec?"
Aunt Polly was vexed to think she had overlooked that bit of circumstantial evidence, and missed a trickThen she had a new inspiration:
Table of Contents
- Tom Plays, Fights, and Hides
- The Glorious Whitewasher
- Busy at War and Love
- Showing Off in Sunday School
- The Pinch Bug and His Prey
- Tom Meets Becky
- Tick-Running and a Heartbreak
- A Pirate Bold to Be
- Tragedy in the Graveyard
- Dire Prophecy of the Howling Dog
- Conscience Racks Tom
- The Cat and the Painkiller
- The Pirate Crew Set Sail
- Happy Camp of the Freebooters
- Tom's Stealthy Visit Home
- First Pipes "I've Lost My Knife"
- Pirates at Their Own Funeral
- Tom Reveals His Dream Secret
- The Cruelty of "I Didn't Think"
- Tom Takes Becky's Punishment
- Eloquence and the Master's Gilded Dome
- Huck Finn Quotes Scripture
- The Salvation of Muff Potter
- Splendid Days and Fearsome Nights
- Seeking the Buried Treasure
- Real Robbers Seize the Box of Gold
- Trembling on the Trail
- In the Lair of Injun Joe
- Huck Saves the Widow
- Tom and Becky in the Cave
- Found and Lost Again
- "Turn Out! They're Found!"
- The Fate of Injun Joe
- Floods of Gold
- Respectable Huck Joins the Gang
Literary Allusions and Notes
Mark Twain on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Suggestions for Further Reading
Reading Group Guide
1. In his preface, Mark Twain remarks that "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. . . ." Do you think Twain succeeds in this "plan"? Discuss the ways in which Tom Sawyer can be read by both children and adults-do different aspects of the book appeal to different kinds of readers? Are different episodes designed, as some critics have suggested, to appeal to different audiences?
2. How does Tom Sawyer relate to the world of adult authority and responsibility? Can he be said to "mature" during the course of the novel, as critics have asserted? If so in what ways?
3. Discuss the town of St. Petersburg, Mississippi, Tom Sawyer's home. How would you describe it? What literary devices or descriptions, to your mind, make Twain's portrayal of rural American life in the years before the Civil War interesting, unique, appealing?
4. Virginia Wexman notes that in Tom Sawyer "we are confronted with two clearly separate worlds. The first world is a light and engaging one . . . where life is played at . . . the world of Tom himself. . . . But there is another world here too, a darker world where actions have real meaning and real moral consequences-the world of people like Injun Joe and Muff Potter." Discuss each of these "two worlds, " and the ways in which they are related to each other in the novel.
5. Discuss Tom's relationship with Huckleberry Finn, from their first encounter, through their subsequentadventures. What do you make of this friendship? Why are these characters drawn to each other? Compare this relationship with other relationships in the novel, for instance Tom's relationship to Becky Thatcher.
6. Discuss Twain's use of particular geographical settings as scenes for episodes in the novel: the river, the island, the cave. Why do you think these particular landscapes are chosen? How do they inform the action of the novel?
7. Tom Sawyer is one of the most recognizable and revered characters in American literature; as Lyall Powers writes, "Everybody knows Tom's story whether he has actually read the book or not." What do you think accounts for the enduring popularity of Twain's literary creation?