Walt Whitman said, "Whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud." Does Tom Sawyer's character fit this?The quote suggests that anyone not in sympathy with...

Walt Whitman said, "Whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud." Does Tom Sawyer's character fit this?

The quote suggests that anyone not in sympathy with humanity, not living the results of a sense of identity and connection with others, is already as good as dead. Do you see Tom Sawyer of Huckleberry Finn fitting this?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, I do not believe that Whitman's quote regarding a lack of sympathy applies to Tom Sawyer. Walt Whitman's quote, "Whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud," is very compelling, and under normal circumstances, with a world view in mind, this might well be a statement with merit. However, this comment is for someone in a world much more sophisticated than that where Tom's head resides.

First of all, Tom is a kid with a vivid imagination. He is a dreamer, so he is not grounded in the world of reality, but that of his own making. eNotes.com describes Tom in the following way:

Tom’s prime purpose in [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] seems to be convincing Huck to live a life based on adventure books, when Huck’s true life is far more of an adventure story than those books could ever tell. Tom helps Huck free Jim near the novel’s end with his adventure-book tricks...

Tom is too young—a youngster wrapped up in tales of the improbable, to see things in a practical way.

Secondly, in order for a person to feel sympathy for someone else, he (or she) has to be aware of the grand scheme of things. He (or she) cannot be as self-centered as Tom is, but his behavior is not unusual for a boy his age. He is very much caught up in himself and in "playing." He has, arguably for the sake of the character, had some adventures himself in his dealings in Twain's book about Tom and Injun Joe, but he is still a kid. To be sympathetic, he must be able to sense that someone is in pain, to feel badly for that person, and exercise sympathy for the circumstances of another, but this is not Tom's world.

Tom is living in a make-believe place. Realism is not his companion: his head is filled with dreams. When we read about Huck's desire to free Jim, we can barely keep up with Tom's plans, schemes and reasoning. Additionally, it's hard to know if he could have sympathy for Jim's dilemma because he knows already that Miss Watson freed Jim in her will, and she has passed on.

Turn him loose! he ain't no slave; he's as free as any cretur that walks this earth...Old Miss Watson died two months ago, and she was ashamed she ever was going to sell him down the river, and said so; and she set him free in her will.

As Jim is no longer wanted as a runaway slave, but Tom is the only one who knows, it is for the thrill of the game to see if they can "free" Jim that motivates Tom to form his elaborate and crazy plan for Jim's liberation.

Huck is a youngster as well, but his background and his reality are totally different. He does not know what it is like to grow up in a "family-centered" environment and never had a caring parent to see to his needs; instead he has had a drunken, abusive father who treats him much like an animal.

Every little time he locked me in and went down to the store, three miles, to the ferry, and traded fish and game for whisky, and fetched it home and got drunk and had a good time, and licked [beat] me.

The women who try to "civilize" him come into his life much too late: Huck has a much more realistic appreciation for his own situation, as well as his fellow man (i.e., Jim), and is able to understand the sentiment of sympathy much better because of his difficult past.

While Whitman's quotation is an excellent point, worthy of study and perhaps debate, I do not feel it applies to Tom Sawyer.

Read the study guide:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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