Tom Sawyer is a young raspcallion, all right.
In Mark Twain's character, Tom Sawyer, we find all youthful vice and virtue coexistent at the same time. Pity Aunt Polly, who has to try to manage this youth, full of vigor and searching as a puppy does for any kind of new experience. Tom has only boyish visions of pirating and robbing, shedding blood and taking captives. He differs from many of us who were once pre-teen boys in that he does all of the things we wish we had.
He is wily, cunning, willful, yet we continue to like him for his heart of gold.
In this, the earlier of the two Mark Twain river adventures, we first meet Huck Finn. While we might understand The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on its own, there is much more to find in that book if The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is read first.
Like the younger book, we find slavery and other institutions of early nineteenth century Missouri explored. This book's treatment of slavery is nowhere as well developed as it is in its sequel, though we do see a tiny glimpse of contempt for it.
Twain treats young Sawyer's "romance" with Becky Thatcher with ease and grace, and in them we find the interests and fickle longings of all pre-teen hearts.
The treatment of the religious institution of that time and place is cause for a great deal of wry humor. Twain's insight into the ways in which Christianity can become a religion bring a smile to the lips of anyone who ever attended a Sunday School. By and large, he is right on the mark in seeing into the minds of his characters, and we see in their actions a mirror held to our own experiences.
And that is the magic of Mark Twain. He doesn't tell outright jokes in his prose, but he weaves his characters into situations in which humor will be found in the way they act. In this way, his humor is sophisticated and sneaky. He seems to have been a powerful influence on the modern day Garrison Keillor, for the same folksy style of story telling employed by Mr. Twain has been well imitated and extended from St. Petersburg, Missouri to Lake Wobegone, Minnesota.
In our rush to declare this book fine literature, let us not forget that it is first and foremost an engaging adventure tale, though much more innocent in its own way than the ones found today on airport news stands. Take a trip back in time to America's expanding West in the early 1800's, and let the rhythm of Twain's prose slow you down to the pace of that day.
So here is Mark Twain's original river adventure, in downloadable a downloadable PDF file of 1176K, 191 pages in all.