The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


Mark Twain

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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.

Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up

Tom Sawyer is the embodiment of boyhood rebellion. He is always disappointing the adults who surround him, by breaking rules, fighting with other boys, failing to perform his chores, fibbing, stealing sweet treats from his Aunt Polly's closet, and so on. Yet Twain's stories of Tom's misdeeds are humorous and affectionate, rather than judgmental moral lessons. Tom's shenanigans, in fact, often bring delight and even unpredictable insight into a situation, with the boys' interactions as…

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The Hypocrisy of Adult Society

The adults of quaint St. Petersburg see themselves as a law-abiding, church-going, family-based group that must police its children. The most respected figure in the novel is Judge Thatcher, who is in charge of administering the law. Virtually every villager shows up to church on Sunday, so that community is formed through an agreed upon set of moral values. The education of the village's children consists largely of learning to follow inflexible rules that…

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Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape

From the first moment of the novel, Tom is on the run, hiding out from Aunt Polly with stolen jam smeared across his face in her closet. In the face of constant scolding and ever-boring work, Tom repeatedly manages to escape. He plays hooky whenever possible, and leaves Aunt Polly's house typically to return only after his bedtime. He also metaphorically escapes from the boring routines and rules of daily life in St. Petersburg through…

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Showing Off

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…

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Sentimentality and Realism

In writing about the village of St. Petersburg, Missouri, Twain was describing a contemporary Southern American village to his original readers. Rather than glamorizing his subject matter by writing about a more well-known location or glamorous characters, he aimed towards realism in describing the daily lives of average people living on the Mississippi River, people in whom his readers might recognize themselves. His preface explains that much of the book is based on his…

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