The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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Mr. Dobbins Character Analysis

The local teacher. Mr. Dobbins is a pompous disciplinarian with a vindictive nature. As a youth he dreamed of becoming a doctor, and keeps an anatomy book hidden in his desk. On Examination day, just before summer vacation, the schoolchildren get revenge upon him for his punishments by dropping a cat from the ceiling to swipe off his wig and reveal to their parents his bald head, painted gold while he was passed out drunk.

Mr. Dobbins Quotes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The The Adventures of Tom Sawyer quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Dobbins or refer to Mr. Dobbins. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage Classics edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published in 2010.
Chapter 21 Quotes
The tittering rose higher and higher—the cat—was within six inches of the absorbed teachers head—down, down, a little lower, and she grabbed his wig with her desperate claws, clung to it and was snatched up into the garret in an instant with her trophy still in her possession! And how the light did blaze abroad from the master's bald pate—for the sign-painter's boy had gilded it!
Related Characters: Mr. Dobbins, The sign-painters boy
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the boys of the school get their revenge on their incompetent teacher, Mr. Dobbins. Earlier, Mr. Dobbins had been napping off a hangover, and during this time one of the schoolboys painted Dobbins's bald head bright gold. In the middle of their end-of-the-year examinations, the boys then arrange for a cat to rip off their teacher's wig, revealing his horrendously painted head.

The passage is a great example of where Twain's "loyalties" lie in depicting small-town American life. Twain makes plenty of fun of the young boys in his book, and yet at the end of the day he praises them for their ingenuity and imagination. Mr. Dobbins--in the novel, a fairly representative adult--is portrayed as lazy, drunk, and incompetent; he could never think of a prank as ingenious as the one the children pull on him. Perhaps there's a subtle metaphor in the image of a bald head painted gold: Mr. Dobbins pretends to be wise and scholarly in front of his children's parents, when in fact the students know full-well that he's just an ignorant guy. Like so many adults in Twain's books, Dobbins is a fool pretending to be wise.


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Mr. Dobbins Character Timeline in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Dobbins appears in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
Tom arrives late to school and his teacher, Mr. Dobbins , reprimands him. When Tom notices that his crush is now a classmate, he proudly... (full context)
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape Theme Icon
Showing Off Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon He writes "I love you" on his slate, but their flirtation his interrupted by Mr. Dobbins . Tom goes to his original seat, elated. (full context)
Chapter 21
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
As the year progresses and examination day and the end of the school year approaches, Mr. Dobbins grows even more harsh in an effort to drive his students to better test performance,... (full context)