The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights
by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer book cover
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Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

To better understand The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, we need to look at the concepts, experiences, and techniques that Twain explores and employs:

  1. Twain's main purpose is to capture (and remind us of) the complex emotional and social world of a boy on the edge of adolescence. Be aware of how Tom deals with the following issues:

    Notice how Tom matures throughout the novel. It is important to note that the first words Tom speaks are a lie. As he develops, pay attention to how he deals with telling the truth versus lying.
  2. Tom's world is a well-preserved snapshot of the life and times of a youth in the years before the Civil War. Notice how the following issues relate to this time period:

    • his treasures

    • recreations, such as games and imaginary activity

    • daydreams

    • the romance books he reads

    • the allusions that Twain uses throughout the novel

    • racial prejudices

  3. Tom's relationship with Becky Thatcher is particularly difficult for both of them as they try to learn the best way to understand their feelings for each other. As their relationship progresses, pay attention to the following:

    • their first encounter

    • the way Tom treats Becky while at school as opposed to when they are in the cave

    • the ways in which they demonstrate affection and jealousy

    • the effect of Tom's previous “engagement” to Amy Laurence

  4. Huck Finn acts as a foil for Tom, contrasting the differences in their lifestyles and what they would like to become. Note their differences:

    • Huck's lack of family

    • Tom's interest in romantic novels

    • dialects

  5. Notice how Twain criticizes and satirizes various elements in Tom's world in the following ways:

    • Twain's use of superstitions

    • the portrayal of religion

    • the depiction of “Injun Joe” and “niggers” as characters

    • the use of dialect

  6. Tom has a vivid imagination, which he uses with great effect throughout the novel. Pay particular attention to how Tom's imagination impacts the following:

    • the games he plays with his friends

    • the rules and roles of members in society

    • the loyalty Tom demonstrates to his family and friends

    • his superstitious actions

    While Tom uses his imagination extensively, there are circumstances that force him to face reality. Be aware of the following forces:

    • the murder in the cemetery and the preceding court trial

    • Aunt Polly's hurt feelings

    • the adventure Tom and Becky have in the cave

  7. Terms marked in the text with (†) can be looked up in the Glossary for additional information.

  8. Difficult or unusual vocabulary words are listed alphabetically by chapter at the back of the book.