Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Tom Brown is the son of a country squire who believes in letting his children mingle not only with their social equals but also with any children who are honorable. Before Tom left home to attend Rugby School, therefore, he had the advantage of friendship with all types of boys. This training would be of value to him at the famous school. When Tom alights from the coach on his arrival at Rugby, he is met by Harry East, a lower-school boy who has been at the school for a half year. East gives Tom good advice on how to dress and how to take the hazing and bullying that every new boy must endure. The two boys become immediate friends and are to remain so throughout their years at school.
From the first, Tom loves the school. He conducts himself with such bravery, both on the playing field and in dormitory scuffles, that he soon gains popularity among the other boys. One of the sixth-form boys, a leader among the students, makes such an impression on Tom with his talks on sportsmanship and kindness to weaker boys that Tom is almost a model student during his first half year. He does join in some mischief, however, and is once sent to Dr. Arnold, the headmaster. By and large, however, he and East profit by the lessons they learn in classes and in games.
At the beginning of the second half year, Tom is promoted into the lower fourth form, a large and unruly class dominated by bullies and ruffians. Formerly he had liked his masters and tried to...
(The entire section is 1128 words.)
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Despite Hughes's tendency to be didactic, his reticence about sexual matters, the remoteness of the time and school depicted in the novel, and the frequently obscure British schoolboy slang, Tom Brown's Schooldays still appeals to modern readers. Like modern young adults, Tom and the other boys at Rugby suffer pangs of separation from family, stand up against peer bullies, ponder the ambiguities of friendship and the finality of death, and gradually assume adult responsibilities. Tom is no saint; like his American contemporary Huckleberry Finn, he gets into trouble with authority, cuts corners when convenient, sees the hypocrisy of many conventional viewpoints, and relishes an active, outdoor life. Even when Tom is "civilized" under the indirect guidance of his headmaster, Thomas Arnold, he is not transformed into a prude or a snob. He is aware of his own weaknesses and feels great sympathy for those who do not possess his strengths. Thus, although the world that Hughes describes is one that modern readers will never enter, the characters and their internal struggles are relevant.
(The entire section is 173 words.)