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THE CRITICS - LITERARY CRITICISM / ANALYSIS
...If Tom is "hampered" as well as harassed, it is because he is incapable of learning from experience. He may be successful at the end of his adventures-in terms of fortune and social status. But he is not a whit the wiser. Although some critics hold that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer chronicles Tom's progress from childhood to maturity, the evidence suggests otherwise. One might expect his experience at Muff Potter's trial to have been at least a little sobering, but afterward Tom still likes to play at being a robber. He is later given much credit for leading Becky out of the cave, but it should be remembered that he is responsible for getting them lost in the first place. After making it back to safety, he reveals that his juvenile egotism remains intact. When he tells others about this adventure, he puts in "many striking additions to adorn it withal."
Robert Keith Miller, Mark Twain, 1983
COMEDY OF EVIL
What is apparent in the blissful atmosphere of frontier boyhood in Tom
Sawyer is that the sense of evil is comic too. The 'diabolism' of the
hero... is itself a form of playful parody; and life is basically innocent
and loving. If Tom Sawyer is, on one level, a parody of an adult society
of power and manipulation, of property and place, of trading and acquisition-the
parody itself is divine, is innocent, is wistful and comic. (That is the
real secret of the book's lasting appeal.) Beneath all the humor is the
deeper rhythm of Sam Clemens' affinity with animal life and a natural
sense of pleasure.
Maxwell Geismar, Mark Twain, an American Prophet, 1970
THE WORLD AS PLAY
Tom's play defines the world as play, and his reality lies in his commitment to play, not in the involuntary tendencies which are often attributed to him. Actually Tom is in revolt against nothing. To be sure, he feels the pinch of school and the discipline of Aunt Polly, but he has no sustained desire to escape and no program of rebellion. What he does have is a perennial dream of himself as the hero and a commitment to the dream which makes it come true not once, but as many times as he can reorganize the village around his dream. The truth the dream invariably comes to is play-a play which converts all serious projects in the town to pleasure and at the same time subverts all the adult rituals by revealing that actually they are nothing but dull play to begin with.
James M. Cox, Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor, 1966
ST. PETERSBURG'S SOCIAL HISTORY
The items of Twain's social history of St. Petersburg make an impressive tally: a Sunday School exercise, a church service, the village school, an informal inquest, a funeral, "Examination Day," a murder trial, a manhunt, and a reception. Senator Benton's Fourth of July speech disappoints Tom, as does the revival, but the circus does not. The inclusiveness of the catalogue may go unnoted simply because each event is presented as part of Tom's daily life. Always the dramatic focus, his personality unfolds as these manifold social forces act upon him. Tom Sawyer is, for all his imagination, essentially a passive character. True to the observed nature of childhood, Twain has made his hero, in spite of occasional smashing victories over adults, subservient in the main to the adult schedule of events.
Albert E. Stone, Jr., The Innocent Eye: Childhood in Mark Twain's Imagination, 1961
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department State University of New York at Stony Brook
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series Fort Morgan, Colorado
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher Tamalpais Union High School District Mill Valley, California
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English State University of New York College at Buffalo
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies State University of New York College at Geneseo
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education State University of New York at Buffalo
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee National Council of Teachers of English Director of Curriculum and Instruction Guilderland Central School District, New York
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois