Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Tom Sawyer, the mischievous ringleader of countless boyish adventures, who almost drives his long-suffering aunt to distraction with his pranks. When not fighting with other village urchins, the indolent boy plans numerous romantic and impractical escapades, many of which cost him hours of conscience-stricken torment. If he is not planning misdemeanors on the high seas, he is looking for buried treasure. Although unthinking, he is not really a bad boy; he is capable of generosity and occasionally surprises even himself with magnanimous acts.
Aunt Polly, Tom’s warm, tenderhearted aunt. Sometimes this simple scripture-quoting old soul does not understand her mischievous charge. She uses Tom’s brother Sid as an example of a model youth. Her frequent admonitions, emphasized by repeated thumps on the head with a thimble, fail to have a lasting effect on Tom. Believing herself endowed with subtle guile, she often tries to trap the boy into admitting his pranks. Rarely, however, is she successful. Tom usually manages to outwit her if Sid does not call her attention to certain inexactnesses in Tom’s excuses.
Huckleberry Finn, one of Tom’s best friends and a social pariah to the village mothers, but not to their sons. In the self-sufficient outcast, the boys see everything they want to be. They long for his freedom to do as he pleases. Sometimes, to...
(The entire section is 654 words.)
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Tom Sawyer is a trickster figure who challenges the rules of conventional society. He and his younger half-brother Sid are wards of their highly conventional Aunt Polly, and Tom engages in a variety of ruses to escape from the impositions of adult society, particularly work and school. Although Sid cleverly sees through Tom's antics, his aunt is more easily fooled. Secretly indulgent of Tom's faults, she nonetheless punishes him dutifully when she discovers his deceptions.
Tom lives in a world defined by the customs and values of boys. He defends his territory, testing newcomers in fights, and participates in ritual exchanges of valueless, even repugnant, goods such as the dead cat he acquires from Huck. Bored by the solemnity of church, he disrupts the service with a pinchbug and trades to get tickets meant to be earned by memorizing Scripture. Subject to childhood romance, he falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a judge's daughter. His attempts to gain her approval, along with his general desire to be the center of attention, inspire him to show off unabashedly. Ultimately, however, he assumes a hero's role, first taking the blame when Becky accidentally damages the schoolmaster's anatomy book, then rescuing her from the cave.
Huckleberry Finn appears in this book as a secondary character. Like Tom, Huck has lost a parent; unlike Tom, he lives a homeless life, sleeping at an old slaughterhouse. Further removed from social convention, Huck...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Mischievous but lovable, Tom Sawyer is a fictional character so well known that he has become a folkloric figure. Even those who have not read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer may be familiar with the episodes in which Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing his aunt's fence for him, spies on his own funeral, acts as the surprise witness against Injun Joe at Muff Potter's murder trial, and gets lost in the cave with his beloved Becky Thatcher. Tom's Aunt Polly takes good care of Tom and his half-brother Sid, although often Tom exasperates her when he gets into trouble. He sneaks out his window at night to go on adventures with his friend Huck Finn, believes in superstitions, and yearns to lead what he sees as the exciting life of a pirate or robber. He can't sit still in church or in school and always finds some diversion, such as watching a bug, to make the time pass more quickly. Tom is happiest when he is off having thrilling adventures with his friends: searching for buried treasure, running away for a few days to a sandbar in the Mississippi River in a game of pirates, or hiding in the cemetery at midnight. He adores Becky Thatcher, the new girl in town, and shows off to get her attention. Tom is a boy of strong emotions and great imagination, and in spite of his mischievous ways he has a good heart: his rescues of Becky when she is heading for trouble with the schoolmaster and of Muff Potter when he is on trial for murder show that Tom knows the right thing...
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Referred to by the narrator as both the "juvenile pariah of the village" and as a "romantic outcast," Huckleberry Finn is "cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers" of St. Petersburg and secretly admired by their children. The son of the town drunkard, who is usually absent from the village and thus from his parental responsibilities, Huck sleeps in hogshead barrels or on doorsteps, wears castoff men's clothing, swears, smokes, and lives by his own rules. Huck and Tom Sawyer are good friends because, although Tom is "under strict orders not to play with" Huck, he admires Huck so much that he disobeys Aunt Polly's orders and secretly finds ways to play with his outcast friend. Viewed by adults as being "idle and lawless and vulgar and bad," Huck actually possesses a conscience and a heart. When he goes to the Welshman to report Injun Joe's threats against the Widow Douglas, he admits to the older man that he worries about his character and the way he is perceived by others. He confesses that "sometimes [he] can't sleep much, on account of thinking about [his bad reputation] and sort of trying to strike out a new way of doing." Huck saves the Widow Douglas from Injun's Joe's revenge, and she in turn takes Huck in and attempts to "civilize" him, with clean clothes and church and polite manners. But Huck is miserable under her protective care and runs away, explaining later to Tom, "It's awful to be tied up so."
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The sister of Tom and Sid's dead mother, Aunt Polly has taken in both boys to live with her and her daughter Mary. Aunt Polly loves Tom but is both exasperated and amused by him. She is always shaking her head and wringing her hands over his behavior, but her soft heart prevents her from punishing him very strictly.
Huck Finn saves the Widow Douglas from Injun Joe when he overhears Injun Joe's plans to mutilate her and enlists the help of the Welshman and his sons to protect her. A pious and good-hearted woman of St. Petersburg, the Widow Douglas later takes Huck Finn into her home with the intention of "civilizing" him.
Tom Sawyer's "bosom friend," Joe is a member of Tom's pirate gang and as such calls himself "the Terror of the Seas." When the "pirates" run away on a short-lived pirating adventure, Joe is the first to admit to homesickness.
Known as a "half-breed," meaning he is half white and half Native American, Injun Joe is the villain of the novel and a force of evil in St. Petersburg. He is an angry, vengeful, amoral man who thinks nothing of robbing Hoss Williams's grave, killing Dr. Robinson, stealing gold, or threatening old widows and young boys. Injun Joe's name, which is an abbreviated slang pronunciation of "Indian Joe," shows that his identity is so closely tied to his being a Native American that the townspeople—and...
(The entire section is 794 words.)