Study Guide

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born in Missouri in 1835. He was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River, which is the setting for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The major influence on Twain as an adolescent was the activity on the river, having worked as a riverboat pilot. The invention of the steamboat had transformed the Mississippi into a major thoroughfare for commerce, travel, and, excitement. Twain supposedly took his pseudonym from the way a river's depth was measured: a piece of line was dropped into the river, and when it hit the bottom, the depth was called out to the pilot. Therefore, “Mark Twain” or “two fathoms” literally means “twelve feet.”

When the Civil War began, Twain headed west. Avoiding the War, he found work as a newspaperman, where his skill as a writer and satirist soon led him to pursue a literary career. The success of his early books, including Tom Sawyer, won him fame and fortune, and when the war ended, he went east to enjoy and enlarge his new fame. Other books popular books include: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Twain spent much of his time traveling. A trip with his family around the world inspired his book The Innocents Abroad. He also made and lost several fortunes, mostly due to bad investments. In his later years Twain became a very popular lecturer, often drawing crowds to hear him read his own works.

Family tragedy, including the death of his favorite daughter, left him bitter and depressed in his old age. Mark Twain died in 1910; his death, like his birth, coincided with the appearance of Halley's Comet.