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Tom is a young boy of about ten years of age. As a mischievous boy, he gets into one adventure after another, usually accompanied by his wayward friend, Huck Finn. He is truly the proverbial "bad boy" of the village, getting into fights, instigating pranks, and being constantly punished at school. Tom’s mischief, however, has no ill intent and is usually harmless, just a part of "growing up".
Tom is obviously intelligent and ingenious, as seen when he traps his friends into whitewashing the fence, when he finds a way to escape the cave, and when he figures out where Injun Joe has hidden the treasure. In spite of his intelligence, he does not always think before he acts. He is more interested in seeing the reaction of the people towards his escapades and being in the limelight. This is most obvious when he plans the adventure for he and his lost friends to return in the middle of their own funeral.
Tom, with his vivid imagination, is bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. He is strong-willed and loves to defy any rule, be it in school or at home. As a result, he is a constant exasperation to his teachers and to his Aunt Polly, whom he truly loves in spite of the worry he causes her. When he has run away to Jackson’s Island, he is concerned about his aunt’s worry and writes her a letter to tell her he is just fine. Although he decides not to leave the letter for her, he cannot depart the house without giving her a kiss, a symbol of his true feelings. He also has deep feelings for Becky Thatcher. When she moves into town, it is love at first sight for Tom. He cleverly woos and wins Becky, only to blow it by telling her he has been in love before. He spends much of the book trying to win her love again. He succeeds by taking Becky’s punishment for her when she tore the teacher’s book and by saving her from certain death in the cave.
Throughout most of the book, Tom is given to imaginative play and irresponsibility. He skips school, runs away to Jackson’s Island, plays with the other boys in games of being Robin Hood, pirates, and robbers. As the novel progresses, however, he begins to mature. The first clear sign of this is when he decides on his own to testify in court against Injun Joe. He does this to save the life of Muff Potter and in spite of the fear he has over Joe’s revenge and Huck’s upset over his breaking their blood oath. It is truly a brave and noble thing for Tom to do, showing a level of adult maturity. When lost in the cave with Becky, he shows the same level of maturity. He never panics, not even when he spies Injun Joe in the cave. Instead, he locates a source of water, explores the cave while holding on to a string, comforts Becky and bolsters her sagging spirits, and finally locates an exit and saves them both. Later, when he sees Injun Joe’s dead body in the cave, he empathizes with him, feeling sorry for the suffering he has endured.
Although Tom proves that he can act maturely, at the end of the book, he is portrayed as still being a child, planning "Tom Sawyer’s gang" in which he and his friends will all pretend to be robbers. The reader is left to imagine what adventures they will have and what mischief they will cause. There is little doubt that Tom, a high-spirited, fun-loving boy, and his gang of friends will interrupt the peace and quite of St. Petersburg.
Huck is the town outcast and is only tolerated by the people of St. Petersburg. Since his father is a worthless drunk, Huck must fend for himself. He has no home, no normal clothing, and no regular meals. Refusing to attend school or church, he lives an uncivilized life, free of restrictions. Dressed in rags and sleeping on the ground, he is always dirty and unkempt; he also smokes, curses, and is termed "lawless and vulgar" by the townspeople. The children, however, would love to be like Huck; they envy his freedom and imitate his behavior.
In spite of his appearance and outward behavior, Huck repeatedly shows he is a kind boy. He always goes along with Tom’s ideas, wanting to please his friend. When they are watching for Injun Joe at door number 2, Huck offers to stay on guard all night while Tom sleeps. When he hears that the Widow Douglas is in danger, he runs for help, even though he does not like to interact with the adult townspeople who look down on him. When he runs away from the widow’s house, he begs Tom to go and tell her and beg forgiveness for his sake.
Huck is pictured to be the opposite of Tom in many ways. He prefers to lead a quiet life, never calling attention to himself, unlike Tom who loves to be in the limelight. He is a follower, not a leader, and usually accepts the suggestions made by Tom. Uneducated and illiterate, Huck is driven by superstition, while Tom is literate, well read, and ingenious. Huck tends to be cautious, not taking unnecessary risks, unlike his friend who dares to do anything. But both boys, however, share a common love of the outdoors and a high sense of adventure.
When the Widow Douglas takes him in, Huck puts up with the rigors of prayers, baths, clean clothes, shoes, and regularity for three weeks. When he cannot stand it anymore, he runs away from home, preferring his uncivilized lifestyle that offers him freedom. Only Tom can tempt him back into society by offering his friend to join his gang of robbers. Huck promises to try it for one month, but the reader wonders if Huck will ever be able to live under the confines of the rules and regulations of civilized society.