The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Tom Sawyer 1876 frontispiece.jpg
Front piece of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876 1st edition.
Author Mark Twain
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish, Limited Edition (Spanish)
Genre Bildungsroman, picaresque novel, satire, folk, children's literature
PublisherAmerican Publishing Company
Publication date
1876 [1]
OCLC 47052486
LC Class PZ7.T88 Ad 2001
Followed by Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  
Text The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at Wikisource

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. It is set in the 1840s in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived as a boy. [2] In the novel Tom Sawyer has several adventures, often with his friend Huckleberry Finn. Originally a commercial failure, the book ended up being the best selling of any of Twain's works during his lifetime. [3] [4]


Though overshadowed by its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , the book is by many considered a masterpiece of American literature, [5] and was one of the first novels to be written on a typewriter.


Tom Sawyer, US commemorative stamp of 1972 showing the whitewashed fence. Tom Sawyer 8c 1972 issue U.S. stamp.jpg
Tom Sawyer, US commemorative stamp of 1972 showing the whitewashed fence.
Tom and Becky lost in the caves. Illustration from the 1876 edition by artist True Williams. Adventures of Tom Sawyer-pg248.png
Tom and Becky lost in the caves. Illustration from the 1876 edition by artist True Williams.

Tom Sawyer, an orphan, lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri sometime in the 1840s. A fun-loving boy, Tom skips school to go swimming and is made to whitewash his aunt's fence for the entirety of the next day, Saturday, as punishment.

In one of the most famous scenes in American literature, Tom cleverly persuades the various neighbourhood children to trade him small trinkets and treasures for the "privilege" of doing his tedious work, using reverse psychology to convince them it is an enjoyable activity. Tom later trades the trinkets with other students for various denominations of tickets, obtained at the local Sunday school for memorizing verses of Scripture; he cashes these into the minister to win a much-coveted Bible offered to studious children as a prize, despite being one of the worst students in the Sunday school and knowing almost nothing of Scripture, eliciting envy from the students and a mixture of pride and shock from the adults.

Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town and the daughter of a prominent judge. Tom wins the admiration of the judge in the church by obtaining the Bible as a prize but reveals his ignorance when he is unable to answer basic questions about Scripture. Tom pursues Becky, eventually persuading her to get "engaged" by kissing him. However, their romance soon collapses when she discovers that Tom was previously "engaged" to another schoolgirl, Amy Lawrence and that Becky was not his first girlfriend.

Shortly after Becky shuns him, Tom accompanies Huckleberry Finn, a vagrant boy whom all the other boys admire, to a graveyard at midnight to perform a superstitious ritual designed to heal warts. At the graveyard, they witness a trio of body snatchers, Dr Robinson, Muff Potter, and Injun Joe, robbing a grave. Muff Potter is drunk and eventually blacks out, while Injun Joe gets into a fight with Dr Robinson and murders him. Injun Joe then appears to frame Muff Potter for the murder. Tom and Huckleberry Finn swear a blood oath not to tell anyone about the murder, fearing Injun Joe would somehow discover it was them and murder them in turn. Muff Potter is eventually jailed, assuming he committed the killing in an act of drunkenness and accepting of his guilt and fate.

Tom grows bored by school, and along with his best friend Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn, they run away to Jackson's Island in the Mississippi River to begin life as "pirates". While enjoying their new-found freedom, they become aware that the community is sounding the river for their bodies, as the boys are missing and presumed dead. Tom sneaks back home one night to observe the commotion, and after a brief moment of remorse at his loved ones' suffering, he is struck by the grand idea of appearing at his funeral. The trio later carries out this scheme, making a sensational and sudden appearance at church in the middle of their joint funeral service, winning the immense respect of their classmates for the stunt. Back in school, Tom regains Becky's favour after he nobly accepts the blame and caning punishment for a book she has ripped.

In court, Injun Joe pins the murder on Muff Potter, although Tom and Huckleberry Finn know he is innocent. At Potter's trial, Tom decides to defy his blood oath with Huck and speaks out against Injun Joe, who quickly escapes through a window before he can be apprehended. Henceforth, the boys live in constant fear of Joe's revenge on them for incriminating him.

Summer arrives, and Tom and Huck decide to hunt for buried treasure in a haunted house. After venturing upstairs, they hear a noise below, and peering through holes in the floor, they see the deaf-mute Spaniard who had shown up in the village some weeks before revealing himself to be Injun Joe. Speaking freely, Injun Joe and a companion plan to bury some stolen treasure of their own in the house. From their hiding spot, Tom and Huck wriggle with delight at the prospect of digging it up. However, by chance, the villains discover an even greater gold hoard buried in the hearth and carry it off to a better secret hiding place. The boys are determined to find where it has gone, and one night, Huck spots them and follows them. He overhears Injun Joe's plans to break into the house of the wealthy Widow Douglas and mutilate her face, an act of revenge for her late husband, a justice of the peace, having once ordered him to be publicly whipped for vagrancy. Running to fetch help, Huck prevents the crime and requests his name not be made public, for fear of Injun Joe's retaliation, thus becoming an anonymous hero.

In the meantime, Tom goes on a picnic to McDougal's Cave with Becky and their classmates. However, Tom and Becky get lost and end up wandering in the extensive cave complex for several days, facing starvation and dehydration. Becky becomes extremely dehydrated and weak, and Tom's search for a way outgrows more desperate. He accidentally encounters Injun Joe in the caves one day but is not seen by his nemesis. Eventually, Tom finds a way out, and they are joyfully welcomed back by their community. As a preventive measure, Judge Thatcher, Becky's father, has McDougal's Cave sealed off with an iron door. When Tom hears of the sealing two weeks later, he is horror-stricken, knowing that Injun Joe is still inside. He directs a posse to the cave, where they find Injun Joe's corpse just inside the sealed entrance, starved to death after having desperately consumed raw bats and candle stubs as a last resort. The place of his death, and specifically the in situ cups he used to collect water from a dripping stalactite, becomes a local tourist attraction. Tom and others in the town feel pity at the cruel death, despite Injun Joe's wickedness, and a petition is started to the governor to posthumously pardon him.

A week later, having deduced from Injun Joe's presence at McDougal's Cave that the villain must have hidden the stolen gold inside, Tom takes Huck to the cave and they find the box of gold, the proceeds of which are invested for them. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, but he finds the restrictions of a civilized home life painful, attempting to escape back to his vagrant life. Tom tricks him into thinking that he can later join Tom's new scheme of starting a robber band if he returns to the widow. Reluctantly, Huck agrees and goes back to the widow.


The novel has elements of humour, satire and social criticism; features that later made Mark Twain one of the most important authors of American literature. Mark Twain describes some autobiographical events in the book. The novel is set around Twain's actual boyhood home of Hannibal, near St. Louis, and many of the places in it are real and today support a tourist industry as a result. [6]

The concept of what boyhood is is developed through Tom's actions as well as his runaway adventure with Joe and Huckleberry. To help show how mischievous and messy boyhood was, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, shows a picture of a young boy smoking a pipe, sawing furniture, climbing all over the place, and sleeping. In Twain's novel, Tom and his friend are young when they decide they want to learn how to smoke a pipe. Tom and Joe do this to show just how cool they are to the other boys. [7]


Tom Sawyer is Twain's first attempt to write a novel on his own. He had previously written contemporary autobiographical narratives ( The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress , Roughing It) and two short texts called sketches which parody the youth literature of the time. These are The Story of the Good Boy and The Story of the Wicked Little Boy which are satirical texts of a few pages. In the first, a model child is never rewarded and ends up dying before he can declaim his last words which he has carefully prepared. In the second story, an evil little boy steals and lies, like Tom Sawyer, but finishes rich and successful. Tom appears as a mixture of these little boys since he is at the same time a scamp and a boy endowed with a certain generosity.

By the time he wrote Tom Sawyer, Twain was already a successful author based on the popularity of The Innocents Abroad. He owned a large house in Hartford, Connecticut but needed another success to support himself, with a wife and two daughters. He had collaborated on a novel with Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age published in 1874. [8]

He had earlier written an unpublished memoir of his own life on the Mississippi and had corresponded with a boyhood friend, Will Bowen, both of which had evoked many memories and were used as source material.

Twain named his fictional character after a San Francisco fireman whom he met in June 1863. The real Tom Sawyer was a local hero, famous for rescuing 90 passengers after a shipwreck. The two remained friendly during Twain's three-year stay in San Francisco, often drinking and gambling together. [9]


Frontispiece and title page of the first American edition The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.jpg
Frontispiece and title page of the first American edition

In November 1875 Twain gave the manuscript to Elisha Bliss of the American Publishing Company, who sent it to True Williams for the illustrations. A little later, Twain had the text also quickly published at Chatto and Windus of London, in June 1876, but without illustration. Pirate editions appeared very quickly in Canada and Germany. The American Publishing Company finally published its edition in December 1876, which was the first illustrated edition of Tom Sawyer. [10]

These two editions differ slightly. After completing his manuscript, Twain had a copy made of it. It is this copy which was read and annotated by his friend William Dean Howells. Howells and Twain corresponded through fairly informal, handwritten letters discussing many aspects of his works and manuscripts; language choices, character development, as well as racial development and depiction. Twain then made his own corrections based on Howells' comments which he later incorporated in the original manuscript, but some corrections escaped him. The English edition was based on this corrected copy, while the illustrated American edition was based on the original manuscript. To further complicate matters, Twain was personally concerned with the revision of the proofs of the American edition, which he did not do for the English edition. The American edition is therefore considered the authoritative edition.

Critical analysis

A third person narrator describes the experiences of the boys, interspersed with occasional social commentary. In its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , Mark Twain changes to a first person narrative which takes moral conflicts more personally and thus makes greater social criticism possible. [11] The two others subsequent books, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective , are similarly in the first person narrative from the perspective of Huckleberry Finn.

The book has raised controversy for its use of the racial epithet "nigger"; a bowdlerized version aroused indignation among some literary critics. [12]

The book has also gotten criticism for the caricature-like portrayal of Native Americans through the character Injun Joe. He is depicted as malevolent for the sake of malevolence, is not allowed to redeem himself in any way by Twain, dies a pitiful and despairing death in a cave and upon his death is treated as a tourist attraction. Revard suggests that the adults in the novel blame the character's Indian blood as the cause of his evil. [13]

Sequels and other works featuring Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer, the story's title character, also appears in two other uncompleted sequels: Huck and Tom Among the Indians and Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy. He is also a character in Twain's unfinished Schoolhouse Hill .

Adaptations and influences

Film and television



Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in Three Acts premiered on October 14, 2011, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. The score was by composer Maury Yeston, with choreography by William Whitener, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet. [35] [36] A review in The New York Times observed: "It’s quite likely that this is the first all-new, entirely American three-act ballet: it is based on an American literary classic, has an original score by an American composer and was given its premiere by an American choreographer and company. ... Both the score and the choreography are energetic, robust, warm, deliberately naïve (both ornery and innocent), in ways right for Twain." [37]

Comic books

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has been adapted into comic book form many times:

Video games


On November 30, 2011, to celebrate Twain's 176th birthday, the Google Doodle was a scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. [40]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn</i> Novel by Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, the narrator of two other Twain novels and a friend of Tom Sawyer. It is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

<i>Tom and Huck</i> 1995 film produced by Walt Disney Pictures

Tom and Huck is a 1995 American adventure comedy-drama film based on Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Brad Renfro, Mike McShane, Eric Schweig and Amy Wright. The film was directed by Peter Hewitt and produced/co-written by Stephen Sommers. The movie was released in North America on December 22, 1995.

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<i>Huckleberry Finn and His Friends</i> television program

Huckleberry Finn and His Friends is a 1979 television series documenting the exploits of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, based on the novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by American writer Mark Twain. The series is made up of 26 episodes and was a Canadian/West German international co-production.

<i>Tom Sawyer</i> (1973 film) 1973 film directed by Don Taylor

Tom Sawyer is a 1973 American musical film adaptation of the Mark Twain boyhood adventure story, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, directed by Don Taylor and starring Johnny Whitaker as the titular character, Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher, and Jeff East as Huckleberry Finn. Ho-Chunk tribesman Kunu Hank portrayed Injun Joe.

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The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum is located on 206-208 Hill Street, Hannibal, Missouri, on the west bank of the Mississippi River in the United States. It was the home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as author Mark Twain, from 1844 to 1853. Clemens found the inspiration for many of his stories, including the white picket fence, while living here. It has been open to the public as a museum since 1912, and was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 29, 1962. It is located in the Mark Twain Historic District.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a musical comedy based on the novel by Mark Twain conceived and written by Ken Ludwig, with music and lyrics by Don Schlitz. The musical is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy growing up in the heartland of America. This Broadway musical version of Mark Twain's novel is set in 1840 in St. Petersburg, Missouri, a bustling town on the banks of the Mississippi River. In the course of the story, Tom matches wits with his stern Aunt Polly, falls in love with the beautiful, feisty Becky Thatcher, and goes on the adventure of his life with Becky and Huckleberry Finn. Along the way he meets a terrifying villain named Injun Joe, Tom's bratty half-brother Sid, and all the other boys and girls in the village.

<i>The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn</i> Television series

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an American live-action and animated television series that originally aired on NBC from September 15, 1968, through February 23, 1969. Produced by Hanna-Barbera and based on the classic Mark Twain characters, the program starred its three live-action heroes, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, and Tom Sawyer, navigating weekly adventures within an animated world as they attempted to outrun a vengeful "Injun Joe". After the show's original run, the series continued to air in reruns as part of The Banana Splits and Friends Show syndication package.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a 1938 American drama film produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Norman Taurog starring Tommy Kelly in the title role, with Jackie Moran and Ann Gillis. The screenplay by John V. A. Weaver was based on the classic 1876 novel of the same name by Mark Twain. The movie was the first film version of the novel to be made in color.

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<i>Huckleberry Finn</i> (1920 film) 1920 film by William Desmond Taylor

Huckleberry Finn is a surviving American silent dramatic rural film from 1920, based on Mark Twain's classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed through Paramount Pictures. William Desmond Taylor directed Huckleberry Finn, as he had the 1917 film version of Tom Sawyer, using a scenario written by Julia Crawford Ivers, who also had been the writer for Tom Sawyer.

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Huck and Tom is a surviving American comedy drama film directed by William Desmond Taylor and released in 1918. The scenario by Julia Crawford Ivers is derived from the novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Robert Gordon and Jack Pickford reprise the title roles from the 1917 version of Tom Sawyer, a successful adaptation that was also directed by Taylor.

<i>Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn</i> 2014 film

Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn is a 2014 American comedy-drama/adventure film directed by Jo Kastner and starring Joel Courtney as Tom Sawyer, Jake T. Austin as Huckleberry Finn, Katherine McNamara as Becky Thatcher, Noah Munck as Ben Rogers, and with Val Kilmer as Mark Twain. It is based on Mark Twain's novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The film was released by VMI Worldwide.

Tom Sawyer Title character of the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

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Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in Three Acts premiered on October 14, 2011 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. The score is by composer Maury Yeston, with choreography by William Whitener, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet. A review in The New York Times observed: "It’s quite likely that this is the first all-new, entirely American three-act ballet. It is based on an American literary classic, has an original score by an American composer and was given its premiere by an American choreographer and company [...] both the score and the choreography are energetic, robust, warm, deliberately naïve, in ways right for Twain. The design team were all Americans as well, consisting of Holly Hynes, (Costumes), Walt Spangler (Set) and Kirk Bookman (Lighting).

Tom Sawyer was a one-hour musical by Frank Luther, originally created for the television series The U.S. Steel Hour. It was broadcast live on CBS November 21, 1956, and marked the first time the anthology series had presented a musical. Luther said the show evolved from his re-reading of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer a few years earlier: "(W)henever an incident or character gave me an idea for a song, I'd write the music and words," Luther told an interviewer in 1957. "By the time I'd reached the end of the book, I found I had written 32 songs. The cast included John Sharpe as Tom Sawyer, Jimmy Boyd as Huckleberry Finn, Bennye Gatteys as Becky Thatcher, Rose Bampton as Aunt Polly, Matt Mattox as Injun Joe and Clarence Cooper as Jim the Narrator. A cast album was released on Decca Records shortly after the broadcast, featuring several songs omitted from the original show. Luther was commissioned to follow up the show with a musical adaptation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, also starring Boyd, which was broadcast on The U.S. Steel Hour November 22, 1957.


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