Does "Tom Sawyer" encourage smoking among children?In Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" were children really allowed to smoke at that time? And do you think that the story encourages...

Does "Tom Sawyer" encourage smoking among children?

In Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" were children really allowed to smoke at that time? And do you think that the story encourages smoking among children?

Expert Answers
brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is set in the mid-1800s, when the life expectancy for most Americans was under 50.  Americans during that time did everything at younger ages, including getting married and having children, or marching off to war.  Rural kids, like Tom Sawyer, who were raised by the land as much as they were by parents or the community, were very independent minded and possibly rebellious, as Tom shows by befriending a runaway slave.

There was a greater percentage of people in those days who did smoke, too.  There was no such thing as a filtered or "light" cigarette, all cigarettes were made by hand, though many people smoked pipes instead at that time because they were easier and reusable.

To the heart of the question about whether the story encourages kids to smoke, I would have to say an unequivocal no.  Kids are smart enough to know the story is set in the past, and that the character's actions are not endorsements of them.  They realize the story takes place in a different time, and different setting than their own lives, and they can make the distinction in judgement.  Tom Sawyer encourages smoking about as much as reading the Old Testament encourages slavery, in my opinion.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've never even considered this before. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer certainly celebrates boyish rule-breaking. However, I don't think that students who read this novel would emulate Tom and Huck by starting to smoke. (Kids who want to smoke probably are more influenced by television, films, and music videos, as well as older people in their lives who smoke.)

Having said this, it might very well have been the case decades ago that mischievous students who read Tom Sawyer could have been influenced to try smoking.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I do not disagree with anything that the first answer says, I think we need to also look at something that is in the actual text.

If the book really encouraged smoking, you would think that it would look glamorous when people smoke.  Instead, in this book, the main time that we see kids smoking it does not turn out well for them at all.  Tom and his friends have their pipes and smoking makes them so sick that they all have to go into the bushes and vomit...

Not much encouragement there, I'd say...

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Only if you think getting them to watch the cartoon Shrek will make them victimise poor harmless ogres who have layers and are sweet at heart. I can only agree with other posters - just because there is smoking in this story doesn't mean that students will suddenly start to smoke. They are far smarter than we give them credit for, sometimes :-)

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
To answer your first question, I do think a child like Tom would smoke but most kids probably did not. Tom and Huck pride themselves on being adult-like, and not following the rules of others. I think most kids today realize that Tom is childish, not cool. They don't want to emulate him.
lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would be really disappointed if students read Tom Sawyer and the only thing they got out of it was smoking is cool. I agree with the above poster in that Twain definitely does not glorify smoking.

epollock | Student

That's a great question because when people read literature, we want them to come away with knowledge and appreciation along with understanding something new about themselves. Can it promote smoking? I am sure that it does. We want people to live like Atticus Finch and be morally upright people, but there is no doubt that readers also want to emulate other characters and pick up their behavioral traits as well.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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