What are the differences between Huck and Tom in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom Sawyer is well-read in comparison to Huck Finn, but lacks Huck's capability of dispassionate consideration. Where Tom energetically tackles problems using his imagination, Huck finds that practical reflection can sometimes help to temper the imagination.

This difference is not as slight as might be believed at first notice. Tom's insistence on "adventure" leads rather directly to a bullet in his leg. This insistence also sends the Phelps household into a frenzy while forcing Jim to sleep with snakes, rats, and spiders. 

Tom does not demonstrate a knowledge of some of the humbling lessons that Huck has learned over the course of his journey down river. While Huck brought himself to apologize for insensitive behavior toward Jim, Tom inflicts punishment after punishment on Jim simply for his own amusement. He expresses no remorse when he finally breaks the news that Jim has been free since he (Tom) arrived and the "adventures" were all for fun. 

In all the dealings that Huck has with Tom, we see another significant difference between them in Tom's leadership ability. Tom is a leader and Huck is not.

Neither Huck nor Jim approve of Tom's "adventures," although they feel compelled to submit to his authority in such matters.

No matter how outlandish Tom's ideas are, he is capable of demanding agreement and even fealty. 

Huck, more humble and uncertain, is portrayed as deferential, even to those who would abuse him. 

...despite his “street smarts,” Huck is vulnerable to the characters he meets on his journey down the river...

Huck knows that Tom, like the King and Duke, is not right in all he says, yet he goes along with the plan making little noise about it.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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