What do Tom Sawyer's musings, thoughts, self-analysis, book choices, and decisions show us about what kind of person he is?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer to this question changes as the novel progresses. At the beginning of the novel, Tom comes across as a fun-loving trickster, making mischief for his own entertainment and gain. This is epitomized when he tricks his peers into whitewashing the fence for him and giving him their prized possessions for the privilege. As a book lover, Tom has an active imagination, acting out scenes from Robin Hood with Joe Harper and romanticizing the world around him, as if he were a character in one of his adventure stories. At the same time, Tom's childishness comes across through his easily hurt feelings. Aunt Polly punishing him when Sid breaks the sugar bowl or a fight with Becky is enough to reduce him to bouts of melancholy and fantasies of death. Although he cares about others, Tom's primary concern is initially for himself. 

As the novel progresses, though, Tom considers the feelings of those he cares about. He returns from pirating with the intention of reassuring Aunt Polly that he isn't dead (though he doesn't follow through). He feels enormous guilt over not coming forward with the truth about Dr. Robinson's murder and testifying at Muff Potter's trial, while risking the wrath of Injun Joe. This is a big moment of Tom putting another before himself. He does this again with Becky, taking the fall for her crime of tearing the schoolmaster's book. Again, Tom shows maturity, this time even ending a fight between the two when Becky refused to do the same. Though he still loves to adventure and pretend (he and Huck find treasure and are planning a summer of being robbers together), Tom has real concern and thoughtfulness for those he loves. 

kirbynic | Student

Tom Sawyer is a person with a need for fun, but most importantly he is a very compassionate and caring individual.  Tom shows his compassion in his dealings with Becky, Huck, and Aunt Polly.  

When Becky gets in trouble at school for ripping the teacher's book, Tom takes the blame for her and gets in trouble with Mr. Dobbins.  He does this because he is very caring and sensitive.  Simply put, Tom can't stand to see Becky in trouble.  He would rather take the lashes set forth by Mr. Dobbins than allow Becky to get in any trouble at all. 

Tom also shows his compassionate side in his dealings with Huck.  Tom in Huck get in many adventures together, but in the end Tom really is compassionate when he looks out for Huck's well being.  When Huck says he no longer wants to live with Widow Douglass, where he is being cared for well for the first time in his life, Tom convinces Huck to stay with her, as he knows it is best for Huck.  Tom does this through the unconventional method of telling Huck that in order to be in his gang,  he has to be a proper robber, and this means he needs to stay living with the widow.

Tom shows his very compassionate side in his relationship  with Aunt Polly.  When Aunt Polly was sad after Tom disappeared to play pirates, Tom couldn't stand to see her in pain.  This hurt him terribly and he couldn't leave his spying post without giving her a kiss goodbye.  Tom knew that he caused Aunt Polly's pain by disappearing, and this was more pain than the sensitive young man could handle.  

Tom is a very sensitive and compassionate person.  He wants everyone to be happy.  He can't stand to see his friends and family in pain.  He seems to know what is best for them and he uses his compassion to help out his favorite people.

Read the study guide:
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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