Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Another audiobook. It was really great to have read Huck Finn before reading Tom Sawyer. Knowing about Huck Finn, you can see the seeds of Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer, places where Twain the writer begins to wrestle with this question of when a boy becomes a man—the question of Huck Finn—but has to remind himself that this is a story about a boy, not a man. Places like when Tom and Huck witness Injun Joe killing the doctor, or like when Tom slips back to town while playing pirate to observe his family mourning his death, or when Tom and Becky get lost in the cave. In all these places Tom is forced to confront adult realities, but always responds to them not as an adult would, but as a child.

Indeed, Twain even reminds us in his conclusion that this has been a story about a boy—not a man—and therefore must end before his characters grow too old to start leading adult lives. I think the only grown-up thing Tom does in the whole book is decide to break his vow to Huck and risk the wrath of Injun Joe by testifying on Muff Potter’s behalf. But shortly after this, Tom is right back to his games and foolery, extending an imaginary treasure hunt at one point into a game of trying to steal Injun Joe’s booty. Compare this Tom to the one at the end of Huck Finn. This Tom is likeable, the other is not. But they both put their own lives and the lives of their friends in jeopardy in pursuing their childish games and imagination. The difference, I guess, is Huck, and the way we see Tom through Huck’s adoring child eyes in Tom Sawyer and through Huck’s exasperated adult eyes at the end of Huck Finn.

I still believe Twain played Tom a little stronger in Huck Finn than he did in Tom Sawyer. Huck’s Tom, after all, is oblivious to the danger around them, and forces Huck to stick to the letter of his childish requirements despite the obvious danger, while Tom’s Tom is aware of the danger, and readily abandons the game when it is prudent to do so. But still, the difference in Huck’s perception of Tom is there, and that’s what Huck Finn is all about—that change in perception from boy to man. Knowing that and then reading Tom Sawyer, it makes me wonder how much of Tom Sawyer is about that too, is about setting the stage so that change can take place.

No comments:

Post a Comment