Notes on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Themes

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Topic Tracking: Growing Up

Chapters 1-5

Growing Up 1: Tom begins the book as an adventurous, immature boy. His running from Aunt Polly, laziness at chores, and playing hooky to swim are all signs of this. He often runs away rather than pay for his actions. Throughout the book, Tom faces many challenges that change him and how he approaches responsibility.

Growing Up 2: This is the first sign of Tom's potential adulthood. When he gets others to whitewash the fence, he discovers a valuable insight into human nature and why people find some things appealing and others unappealing. A child would simply be happy that the work was done with no effort. Instead, this is a very adult discovery, showing that Tom has the capacity to grow.

Chapters 6-10

Growing Up 3: Tom's understanding of love is childish and immature. His interest in Becky is not really love, but a crush. He doesn't understand the commitment that love requires. When he accidentally tells Becky he was engaged to Amy before her, he shows that he cannot understand what love means at this point.

Growing Up 4: When Tom and Huck witness the murder of Dr. Robinson, they are forced into a situation that they cannot possibly understand as children. It is as adults that they must eventually deal with the impact of the horrible event they saw. They run away out of fear because they are, as children, powerless to do anything. By signing an oath not to tell anyone what they saw, they are attempting to deal with the murder as children. This experience is what drives them to grow throughout the rest of the story.

Chapters 11-15

Growing Up 5: Tom's experience in the graveyard is disturbing his natural way of doing things. He talks in his sleep and avoids the usual superstitious games the boys play. Instead, he visits Muff Potter in jail, giving him food and tobacco. This is a different side of the normally mischievous, playful Tom. Since he has sworn not to tell anyone about the murder, and is deathly scared of what Injun Joe would do to him, the only way he can cope with the situation is performing small acts of kindness for Potter. This is the initial step from boy to adult that he takes.

Growing Up 6: In running away, Tom and Joe have committed themselves to something much bigger than simple play. They feel very guilty over stealing. For the first time, their actions seem to have consequences. The reality of running away to become pirates is very different than simply pretending. They might talk of the robbing and killing they will do as pirates, but actual crimes such as stealing food seem unacceptable. Only when they each decide that they will not steal can they go to sleep. Huck feels no such guilt, because he isn't constricted by the civilized rules Tom and Joe were raised with.

Growing Up 7: This chapter illustrates the conflict between the boy and the man in Tom. The adult part of Tom makes him return home. He plans to leave a note for Aunt Polly assuring her that they are alive, because he is concerned for her and doesn't want anyone to be worried about them. When he actually hears how upset everyone is, he considers giving up and telling everyone where they are. However, he chooses to stay hidden and not leave a note. Instead, he has a grand idea-a boy's idea-of how to solve his problem, and leaves.

Chapters 16-20

Growing Up 8: Here again we see the difference between Huck and the other boys. Huck smokes, because no one has ever told him not to, so it is a natural thing for him. Tom and Joe, however, see it as an impressive sign of manhood, and immaturely think about who they can impress back at the village with their new habit. When the tobacco starts making them sick, they cannot admit it, and must find excuses to go to the woods to deal with the consequences.

Growing Up 9: Tom lies to Aunt Polly to impress her, but once she discovers his lie, he is sincerely sorry. The guilt that made him sneak back to town from the island returns, but he has a hard time proving that to her. She thinks he told the lie to torture her, as an immature boy would. Tom realizes that his lie has made her distrust him and hurt her, and he is ashamed and upset. He now understands how his actions can hurt the people he cares about. Only when Aunt Polly forgives him does he feel better.

Growing Up 10: Tom bravely takes responsibility for Becky's mistake, to protect her from a whipping at the hand of the schoolmaster. It doesn't matter to him that he will have to take one for her. His love for Becky has changed from a crush to a sincere concern for her well-being. His sacrifice makes Becky care about him even more, because she sees the kindness and bravery in him. This moment changes their relationship from petty and childish to caring and mature. Their fighting is put aside and they are a couple for the rest of the book.

Chapters 21-25

Growing Up 11: Tom makes a pivotal choice that brings him into adulthood. Although he is scared of Injun Joe, he breaks his oath to stay silent about the murder and comes forward to tell the truth. He understands that he cannot avoid the responsibility of testifying. His maturing conscience won't let him stay silent any longer.

Chapters 26-30

Growing Up 12: When Tom and Huck decide to watch Injun Joe and find an opportunity to steal the treasure, they have no illusions about it being a game. They understand how dangerous Injun Joe is, but they are determined to get the real treasure they only imagined of a few days before. This decision is both mature and immature. They know what kind of trouble they could get into, but they aren't mature enough to go to an adult for help.

Growing Up 13: Here it is obvious that Huck is growing up as well, in his own way. Earlier in the book, he would have simply run away. Here, he knows he must go for help and save the Widow, and does so. It is only when the shooting begins that he runs, knowing that he shouldn't be involved in the gunfight.

Chapters 31-35

Growing Up 14: Trapped in the cave, Tom is again forced into an adult role and takes responsibility for his actions. His only thought is to protect Becky and find their way out of the cave, no matter how hopeless it seems. There is no imagination or adventure here, but the simple, desperate responsibility of finding a way out.

Growing Up 15: Tom's experiences have made him a much more mature person. When he convinces Huck to stay, he does so with an understanding of the importance of accepting society and being a part of it. He and Huck are rich and they have futures, and Tom understands this. He is not fully grown, yet-he still dreams of becoming a robber and all the boyish things that he has always wanted--but he is definitely a changed person with a greater maturity. Twain ends the book at a point where Tom the boy is definitely on his way to becoming a man.

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