illustration of the prince and the pauper standing back to back with a castle on the prince's side and a low building on the pauper's

The Prince and the Pauper

by Mark Twain

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What is a character sketch of Tom Canty in The Prince and the Pauper?

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Tom is a completely lovable character and that is why the reader will find himself/herself rooting so strongly for his rags to riches story. Tom Canty is the pauper that the book's title refers to. He is a poor kid growing up in the London slums. He survives by begging, and that should tell readers an important piece of information about his personality. He's humble. He's not too proud to beg. He's also brave, since begging at the time was illegal. His home life is pretty miserable too.

When he came home empty-handed at night, he knew his father would curse him and thrash him first, and that when he was done the awful grandmother would do it all over again and improve on it; and that away in the night his starving mother would slip to him stealthily with any miserable scrap or crust she had been able to save for him by going hungry herself, notwithstanding she was often caught in that sort of treason and soundly beaten for it by her husband.

Knowing all of these details about Tom is important because it makes his dreams of being wealthy, or even being a prince, realistic. If he was from a wealthy family, readers wouldn't be so sympathetic to Tom wanting a lot more out of life. He's a dreamer, and he dreams to escape the misery that is his life. Once Tom is given his dream life, readers get to see a lot more of his goodness. Tom could easily become like Edward and be a complete jerk; however, Tom uses his princely powers for mercy and goodness. He altruistically wants what is good for the many instead of what is good for him. He is truly a selfless character.

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Tom Canty in The Prince and the Pauper is a young man whose childhood was characterized by extreme poverty and abuse from his alcoholic father. Tom is relatively educated considering his class standing, because Father Andrew taught him how to read and write. Utilizing the characters and situations from the books he reads, Tom uses his imagination as a coping mechanism, inserting himself into these fantastical stories. He explores the castle grounds due to his curiosity about royalty, and it is when Prince Edward stops the guards from punishing him that the two realize their uncanny resemblance and decide to swap lives. When Tom switches places with Prince Edward, he proves himself to be a kind and merciful leader. At his coronation, before he switches back to his old life, he declares an end of the law of blood and promises mercy to his subjects. In general, Tom is characterized as intelligent, educated, imaginative, and empathetic.

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