Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Author: Twain, Mark
Characters: Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain [pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (1835-1910), quintessential American humorist, lecturer, essayist, and author wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876);
Protagonist Tom Sawyer is introduced together with his friends Joe Harper and Huck Finn, young boys growing up in the antebellum South. While the novel was initially met with lukewarm enthusiasm, its characters would soon transcend the bounds of their pages and become internationally beloved characters, inspiring numerous other author’s works and characters and adaptations to the stage, television, and film. The second novel in his Tom Sawyer adventure series, Huckleberry Finn (1885), was met with outright controversy in Twain’s time but is now considered one of the first great American novels. A backdrop of colourful depictions of Southern society and places along the way, Huck Finn, the son of an abusive alcoholic father and Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, decide to flee on a raft down the Mississippi river to the free states. Their river raft journey has become an oft-used metaphor of idealistic freedom from oppression, broken family life, racial discrimination, and social injustice. Ernest Hemingway wrote “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
“We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed—only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all—that night, nor the next, nor the next..” Ch. 12
Missouri was one of the fifteen slave states when the American Civil War broke out, so Twain grew up amongst the racism, lynch mobs, hangings, and general inhumane oppression of African Americans. He and some friends joined the Confederate side and formed a militia group, the ‘Marion Rangers’, though it disbanded after a few weeks, described in “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” (1885). His article “The War Prayer” (1923) “in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause” is Twain’s condemnation of hypocritical patriotic and religious motivations for war. It was not published until after his death because of his family’s fear of public outrage, to which it is said Twain quipped “none but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.” Though he never renounced his Presbyterianism, he wrote other irreligious pieces, some included in his collection of short stories Letters From Earth (1909);
“Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very, very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at his worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm.”
Mark Twain grew to despise the injustice of slavery and any form of senseless violence. He was opposed to vivisection and acted as Vice-President of the American Anti-Imperialist League for nine years. Through his works he illuminates the absurdity of humankind, ironically still at times labeled a racist. Though sometimes caustic “Of all the creatures that were made he [man] is the most detestable,” as a gifted public speaker he was a much sought after lecturer “information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter.” —from his Preface to Roughing It (1872). He is the source of numerous and oft-quoted witticisms and quips including “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise I lie down until it goes away”; “If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes”; “Familiarity breeds contempt — and children”; “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes” ; and “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Twain is a master in crafting humorous verse with sardonic wit, and though with biting criticism at times he disarms with his renderings of colloquial speech and unpretentious language. Through the authentic depiction of his times he caused much controversy and many of his works have been suppressed, censored or banned, but even into the Twenty-First Century his works are read the world over by young and old alike. A prolific lecturer and writer even into his seventy-fourth year, he published more than thirty books, hundreds of essays, speeches, articles, reviews, and short stories, many still in print today.
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