Style

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Style 1 key example

Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is narrated in the omniscient third person, with Twain stating directly that he himself is the narrator (which is not true of all omniscient third person narrators). There are several moments when Twain makes his presence as a narrator known. One such moment happens in Chapter 2, in the aftermath of Tom successfully manipulating his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence for him:

Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Here, Twain intentionally interprets Tom’s experience from his perspective as “the writer of this book,” playfully referring to himself as a “great and wise philosopher.” As a stylistic choice, these interruptions remind readers that Twain is not taking himself too seriously while also earnestly encouraging them to look for takeaways that can apply to their own lives (such as the difference between work and play).

At the level of prose, Twain’s style is quite flexible. While he certainly uses exaggeration and hyperbole to playfully mock his young characters (such as writing that “Life to [Tom] seemed hollow, and existence but a burden” when he learns he has to whitewash the fence), Twain can also use that same deftness with language to capture genuinely challenging moments, such as when Becky and Tom are trapped in the cave in Chapter 31:

Tom tried to think of some way of comforting her, but all his encouragements were grown threadbare with use, and sounded like sarcasms. Fatigue bore so heavily upon Becky that she drowsed off to sleep.

Here, readers understand that Twain is not using exaggerated language (such as “threadbare” encouragements and the weight of fatigue) to make readers laugh, but to make them feel empathetic and scared for the characters. Twain also makes excellent use of dialogue, paying particular attention to the dialects of different characters in order to capture the real way that people from small-town Missouri spoke.

Chapter 31
Explanation and Analysis:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is narrated in the omniscient third person, with Twain stating directly that he himself is the narrator (which is not true of all omniscient third person narrators). There are several moments when Twain makes his presence as a narrator known. One such moment happens in Chapter 2, in the aftermath of Tom successfully manipulating his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence for him:

Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Here, Twain intentionally interprets Tom’s experience from his perspective as “the writer of this book,” playfully referring to himself as a “great and wise philosopher.” As a stylistic choice, these interruptions remind readers that Twain is not taking himself too seriously while also earnestly encouraging them to look for takeaways that can apply to their own lives (such as the difference between work and play).

At the level of prose, Twain’s style is quite flexible. While he certainly uses exaggeration and hyperbole to playfully mock his young characters (such as writing that “Life to [Tom] seemed hollow, and existence but a burden” when he learns he has to whitewash the fence), Twain can also use that same deftness with language to capture genuinely challenging moments, such as when Becky and Tom are trapped in the cave in Chapter 31:

Tom tried to think of some way of comforting her, but all his encouragements were grown threadbare with use, and sounded like sarcasms. Fatigue bore so heavily upon Becky that she drowsed off to sleep.

Here, readers understand that Twain is not using exaggerated language (such as “threadbare” encouragements and the weight of fatigue) to make readers laugh, but to make them feel empathetic and scared for the characters. Twain also makes excellent use of dialogue, paying particular attention to the dialects of different characters in order to capture the real way that people from small-town Missouri spoke.

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