'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'

Mark Twain's Famous Novel

Tom Sawyer And Huckleberry Finn statue
Tom Sawyer And Huckleberry Finn statue. Eddie Brady / Getty Images

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) is one of the best-loved and most quoted works of American author Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens).

Summary of the Plot

Tom Sawyer is a young boy living with his Aunt Polly on the banks of the Mississippi River. He seems to most enjoy getting into trouble. After missing school one day (and getting into a fight), Tom is punished with the task of whitewashing a fence. However, he turns the punishment into a bit of entertainment and tricks other boys to finish the work for him. He convinces the boys that the chore is a great honor, so he receives small precious objects in payment.

Around this time, Tom falls in love with a young girl, Becky Thatcher. He suffers under a whirlwind romance and engagement to her before she shuns him after she hears of Tom's previous engagement to Amy Lawrence. He tries to win Becky back, but it doesn't go well, and she refuses a gift he tries to give her. Humiliated, Tom runs off and dreams up a plan to run away.

It's around this time that Tom runs into Huckleberry Finn, who would be the titular character in Twain's next and most acclaimed novel. Huck and Tom agree to meet in the graveyard at midnight to test a scheme to cure warts that involves a dead cat.

The boys meet at the graveyard, which brings the novel to its pivotal scene when they witness a murder. Injun Joe kills Dr. Robinson and tries to blame it on the drunken Muff Porter. Injun Joe is unaware that the boys have seen what he's done.

Afraid of the consequences of this knowledge, he and Huck swear an oath of silence. However, Tom becomes deeply depressed when Muff goes to jail for Robinson's murder.

After yet another rejection by Becky Thatcher, Tom and Huck run off with their friend Joe Harper. They steal some food and head to Jackson's Island. They're not there long before they discover a search party looking for three boys presumed drowned and realize they are the boys in question.

They play along with the charade for a while and don't reveal themselves until their "funerals," marching into the church to the surprise and consternation of their families.

He continues his flirtation with Becky with limited success over summer vacation. Eventually, overcome with guilt, Tom testifies at the trial of Muff Potter, exonerating him of Robinson's murder. Potter is released, and Injun Joe escapes through a window in the courtroom.

The court case isn't Tom's last encounter with Injun Joe, however, as in the final part of the novel he and Becky (newly reunited) get lost in one of the caves, and Tom stumbles across his archenemy. Escaping his clutches and finding his way out, Tom manages to alert the townspeople who lock up the cave, leaving Injun Joe inside. Our hero ends up ​happy, however, as he and Huck discover a box of gold (that once belonged to Injun Joe) and the money is invested for them. Tom finds happiness and, much to his distress, Huck finds respectability by being adopted.

The Takeaway

Although he is, in the end, victorious, Twain's plot and characters are so believable and realistic that the reader cannot help but worry for the easy-go-lucky boy, Tom, even though he rarely worries for himself. What's more, in the character Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain created a wonderful and enduring character, a chipper poor boy who hates nothing more than respectability and being "sivilised," and wants nothing more than to be out on his river.

Tom Sawyer is both a wonderful children's book and a book perfect for those adults who still are children at heart. Never dull, always funny, and sometimes poignant, it is a classic novel from a truly great writer.