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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
Twain adored his wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens, whom he had married only two years before beginning work on Tom Sawyer. She read his books before they were published and often suggested changes.
When Twain finished Tom Sawyer, he felt that he had written a book for adults. Olivia and Twain's friend, the novelist and editor William Dean Howells, convinced him otherwise. "Mrs. Clemens decides with you that the book should issue as a book for boys, pure and simple-and so do I," he wrote Howells. "It is surely the correct idea."
Like the conclusion that Twain tacks onto the end, the preface is an integral part of the novel. Don't skip it. Its three short paragraphs suggest Twain's aim of creating a realistic portrait of small-town life "thirty or forty years ago." Since the novel was published in 1876, this places the action in the 1840s.
The 1840s were idyllic times for Hannibal, the model for St. Petersburg. The little river town of more than a thousand people in the mid-1840s was thriving. The question of allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state had been fiercely debated two decades earlier, with Missouri entering the Union as a slave state in 1821. The upheaval of the Civil War was still a long way off.
Twain says that "most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred." This statement is largely true, although Twain embellished his adventures with material gleaned from his wide reading, as has been noted in "The Author and His Times" section.
Twain also refers to the superstitions "prevalent in the West" (the Midwest, today) when he was a boy. These superstitions- part of the folklore of his times-fascinated him. He had begun taking notes on them more than ten years before he wrote Tom Sawyer.
Finally, Twain tells you exactly for whom the book was written. Always on the lookout for ways to enlarge his readership, Twain describes the book's audience in the broadest terms. It is a book for boys and girls, he says. But, he hopes adults will read it, too, as a reminder of "what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked...."