The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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Themes and Colors
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape Theme Icon
Showing Off Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Showing Off Theme Icon

Tom wishes at all times to be the center of attention, and is pained to share the spotlight with anyone. This desire motivates many of his actions, from picking fights with other boys, to conniving to win the honorary Bible at Sunday school, to winning Becky Thatcher's heart. At the novel's start he is frequently shortsighted in his maneuvers to gain the spotlight, which results in his ending up looking foolish, offering onlookers (and the reader) further entertainment. By its end, Tom's more mature self has become capable of greater sophistication, and he earns the spotlight through less clownish behavior. His final discovery of buried treasure, for example, makes him the envy of everyone in town, with many villagers even seeing him as a model for their own behavior as they set off to hunt for buried treasure in haunted houses. Notably, they want to be able to boast their wealth, just like him, so he is hardly alone in his vanity. At its worst, his showing off reveals a selfish strain in Tom's character. Yet Twain depicts the need for attention as just a minor vice, because it is based in a social instinct for connecting to others in the community. Even the teachers at the Sunday school yearn to be recognized as they try to impress Judge Thatcher when he visits their classroom. The only character who begrudges Tom his dramatic flair is Sid, who is mean-spirited and a loner.

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Showing Off Quotes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Below you will find the important quotes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer related to the theme of Showing Off.
Chapter 3 Quotes
He wandered far from the accustomed haunts of boys, and sought desolate places that were in harmony with his spirit. A log raft in the river invited him, and he seated himself on its outer edge and contemplated the dreary vastness of the stream, wishing, the while, that he could only be drowned, all at once and unconsciously, without undergoing the uncomfortable routine devised by nature.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom has stormed out of his house after Polly beats him. Polly mistakenly thinks that Tom has broken a dish--only to realize too later that it was actually Sid, Tom's brother, who broke it. Tom is furious when Polly refuses to admit her mistake, and so he runs away.

Twain depicts Tom's time alone as a parody of American rugged individualism. Tom thinks of himself as being noble and proud for escaping from Polly's house and into the "wilderness"--but of course, he's really just moping and feeling sorry for himself. Like so many children, he fantasizes about dying suddenly and making his caregivers weep for him. (The passage also foreshadows the scene later on, in which Tom will accidentally trick the townspeople into thinking that he's dead, allowing him to attend his own funeral.)


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Chapter 5 Quotes
The minister made a grand and moving picture of the assembling together of the world's hosts at the millennium when the lion and the lamb should lie down together and a little child should lead them. But the pathos, the lesson, the moral of the great spectacle were lost upon the boy; he only thought of the conspicuousness of the principle character before the on-looking nations; his face lit with the thought, and he said to himself he wished he could be that child, if it was a tame lion.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Mr. Sprague
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tom attends church along with the rest of the townspeople. Although the preacher is preaching about the second coming of Christ, when the Bible says that "a little child shall lead them all," Tom misses the whole point of the story. The preacher is trying to show his congregation that when Christ comes to save mankind, previous rules society will be irrelevant, and the weak and the young will be blessed. But Tom doesn't understand any of this: he just fantasizes about being the proverbial "little child" and having everyone in the world look at him.

Tom is, in short, not a very good student of religion. Although many coming of age novels are about how young people use their educations to grow up and become wiser, more mature people, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer shows that Tom has little real grasp of formal education. At this early stage in the novel, Tom is just a silly boy who wants attention.

Chapter 8 Quotes
He would be a pirate! That was it! Now his future lay plain before him, and glowing with unimaginable splendor. How his name would fill the world, and make people shudder! How gloriously he would go plowing the dancing seas, in his long, low, black-hulled racer, the "Spirit of the Storm," with his grisly flag flying at the fore!
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom is often punished for his bad behavior. But whenever he's been whipped or otherwise mistreated, he has a secret weapon--his imagination. Here, Tom fantasizes about escaping his town altogether in order to become a pirate. (One of the most amazing things about Twain's novel is how little children's fantasies have changed in the last 140 years.)

Tom's childish arrogance and machismo are apparent in this passage. It's not enough for Tom to be an adventurous pirate: everybody else in "the world" must know that Tom is a pirate. Tom's hubris is so great that he pictures himself traveling the world, making innocent people "shudder." Like plenty of young boys, Tom wants recognition from other people--specifically, he wants to scare and intimidate them into respecting him.

Chapter 13 Quotes
Tom's mind was made up, now. He was gloomy and desperate. He was a forsaken, friendless boy, he said; nobody loved him; when they found out what they had driven him to, perhaps they would be sorry; he had tried to do right and get along, but they would not let him; since nothing would do them but to be rid of him, let it be so; and let them blame him for the consequences—why shouldn't they? what right had the friendless to complain? Yes, they had forced him to it at last: he would lead a life of crime. There was no choice.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Tom finally "takes to the hills." He's been exasperated with his town for some time now--he can't stand his Aunt Polly, Sid, etc. Feel that he's without a better option, Tom decides to become a criminal, using his wiliness and strength to oppose his town.

The passage is written tongue-in-cheek, of course. Like so many frustrated kids, Tom has big ambitions, but doesn't really know anything about how to achieve them. And Twain makes it plain that Tom is just wallowing in his pain, instead of trying to do something to better himself. Notice the way that Twain uses the method of "indirect discourse" to convey Tom's thoughts without explicitly establishing that they are Tom's thoughts: for example, when Twain writes, "He was a forsaken, friendless boy," he's speaking as the narrator, but also illustrating what Tomthinks, not the truth--slipping in and out of his character's voice.

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.

Chapter 22 Quotes
The Cadets paraded in a style calculated to kill the late member with envy. Tom was a free boy again, however—there was something in that. He could drink and swear, now—but found to his surprise that he did not want to. The simple fact that he could, took the desire away, and the charm of it.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Tom tries to entertain himself by joining a gang of boys, the Cadets. The Cadets swear an oath not to swear or drink--and yet as soon as he's sworn such an oath, Tom becomes fascinated with the idea of drinking and swearing. Then, when he's left the Cadets forever, Tom finds that he's not the least bit interested in drinking or swearing. In short, Tom's interest in things is dependent on their being forbidden. In a classic demonstration of reverse psychology, he becomes fascinated with swearing because other people tell him that he's not allowed to do so.

Tom's behavior is pretty immature, but in many ways it's preferable to the behavior of his peers, and even the adults in the town. Tom tricks his friends into painting a fence by pretending to enjoy painting the fence; even Aunt Polly buys useless medicines because other people have done the same. Most of the people in Tom's life choose what to do by imitating the people around them. Tom takes exactly the opposite approach, doing whatever the people around himdon't do.