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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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Title, Author and Publication

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was written by Mark Twain and published in 1876. It is now published by Bantam Books of New York.

Setting

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri on the Mississippi. The novel's events occur prior to the Civil War and before the abolition of slavery.

Characters

Tom Sawyer: the protagonist of the novel. Tom is a romantic, imaginative boy who acts as a natural leader to his contemporaries in the town.
Huckleberry Finn: one of Tom's friends, but a boy who lives on the outskirts of middle class society.
Injun Joe: the villain of the novel. Joe is a half Native American, a drunkard and murderer.
Becky Thatcher: a classmate of Tom's who is new to St. Petersburg. Tom develops a crush on Becky and ultimately saves her from the dangers of McDougall's cave.
Aunt Polly: Tom's guardian.

Plot

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the story of a young boy's maturation. Tom is the undeniable leader of his "gang" of boys, leading them on a series of escapades drawn from the stories he has read of pirates and thieves. The novel moves from the antics of Tom's irrepressible sense of fun to a more dangerous kind of adventure when he and Huck witness a murder. Ultimately, Tom must put aside his fantasy world and do the right thing to keep an innocent man from bearing the guilt of a crime committed by Injun Joe. Tom continues his transformation into a more responsible young man when he and Huck avert the further violence threatened by Injun Joe.

Questions to Ponder

Examine the development of character through the novel.

  • What does Tom's code mean to him, and what else might it represent?
  • How is Huck Finn different from the other boys and how does that add to the novel?
  • Could the characters of the novel be described as stock? Why or why not?
  • How does Tom change from "bad" to "good" in the book?

Examine the conflict between society and the characters.

  • In what ways do the characters' superstitions add to the action of the story?
  • How do the town rituals (Sunday school, Saturday chores, etc.) give rise to the conflict?
  • How are society's expectations in conflict with Tom's world of imaginary games and adventures?
  • How does Mark Twain use satire to point out the foibles of society?

Possible First Sentences

"Tom Sawyer, as a character, represents the freedom and innocence of boyhood."
"The difficulties presented by society can act as a catalyst to maturity."
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a satirical novel."
"Mark Twain is the consummate American story-teller."

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