The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


Mark Twain

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Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Analysis

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 Theme Icon

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 a gang often satirically mirroring the behaviors of adults in society. Tom's rebellion earns him the admiration of the other boys in town, who misbehave to lesser degrees. Huckleberry Finn is the only boy who is wilder than Tom. With the village drunkard as his single parent, Huck lives an unsupervised life that is every other boy's dream: he never goes to school or church, he smokes, he wears whatever he wants, and he sleeps outdoors each night. Rebellion is a way for boys to bond, to the exclusion of a few well-behaved boys, such as Sid, and girls, who are more reserved than boys.

Breaking rules is considered unacceptable and anti-social for adults, and, accordingly, the murderer Injun Joe and drunkard Muff Potter are outcasts. Though Tom's mischievous nature is the source of the novel's many humorous anecdotes, the overall arc of the novel charts Tom's maturation into adulthood as he leaves behind his boyish ways to become a responsible member of society. Tom realizes that his actions can have serious consequences and he makes several moral, empathetic decisions over the second half of the novel, including testifying against Injun Joe and protecting Becky Thatcher from being whipped by their teacher. Additionally, Tom makes three journeys that involve his maturation. When he runs away with Joe Harper and Huck to Jackson's Island, he realizes that he misses the company of his family and society. In the several days he spends lost in the cave with Becky Thatcher, he develops an understanding of mature romantic love that involves caring for another, and that proves more fulfilling than simply courting girls for reasons of personal vanity. Finally, after Tom and Huck hunt down the treasure, Tom adopts the respect for wealth and status that the adults of St. Petersburg hold, and no longer disdains wearing suits and other respectable habits.

While Twain's novel catalogs Tom's progression towards adulthood, the author does not fully embrace the changes in attitudes this transition involves, as his portrayal of Huck exemplifies. Huck also matures considerably over the novel, and he performs the most heroic act of all in saving the widow Douglas's life. Yet Huck continues to avoid the proprieties of society—having manners and attending church, for example—even after he has gained the approval of St. Petersburg's citizens. He prefers to exist as an independent character on the fringe of society, avoiding the hypocrisies that Twain has satirized throughout the novel. At the novel's end, Huck and Tom represent different aspects of adulthood, but they continue to bond through their boyish fantasies, and this capacity for friendship is a characteristic of boyhood that Twain would have his adult readers see as true wisdom.

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Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up 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 Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up.
Chapter 1 Quotes
"He 'pears to know just how long he can torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows if he can make out to put me off for a minute or make me laugh, it's all down again and I can't hit him a lick. I ain't doing my duty by that boy, and that's the Lord's truth, goodness knows. Spare the rod and spile the child, as the Good Book says. I'm a laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know."
Related Characters: Aunt Polly (speaker), Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 6 Quotes
Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle, and lawless, and vulgar and bad—and because all their children admired him so, and delighted in his forbidden society, and wished they dared to be like him.
Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
The boys dressed themselves, hid their accoutrements, and went off grieving that there were no outlaws any more, and wondering what modern civilization could claim to have done to compensate for their loss. They said they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes
Injun Joe repeated his statement, just as calmly, a few minutes afterward on the inquest, under oath; and the boys, seeing that the lightnings were still withheld, were confirmed in their belief that Joe had sold himself to the devil. He was now become, to them, the most balefully interesting object they had ever looked upon, and they could not take their fascinated eyes from his face. They inwardly resolved to watch him, nights, when opportunity should offer, in the hope of getting a glimpse of his dread master.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Injun Joe
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
They said their prayers inwardly, and lying down, since there was nobody there with authority to make them kneel and recite aloud; in truth they had a mind not to say them at all, but they were afraid to proceed to such lengths as that, lest they might call down a sudden and special thunderbolt from Heaven. Then at once they reached and hovered upon the imminent verge of sleep—but an intruder came, now, that would not "down." It was conscience. They began to feel a vague fear that they had been wrong to run away; and next they thought of the stolen meat, and then the real torture came.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Joe Harper
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes
Joe's pipe dropped from his nerveless fingers. Tom's followed. Both fountains were going furiously and both pumps bailing with might and main. Joe said feebly:
I've lost my knife. I reckon I better go and find it.
Tom said, with quivering lip and halting utterance:
I'll help you. You go over that way and I'll hunt around by the spring. No, you needn't come Huck—we can find it.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer (speaker), Joe Harper (speaker), Huckleberry Finn
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes
Tom stood a moment, to gather his dismembered faculties; and when he stepped forward to go to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the adoration that shone upon him out of poor Becky's eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred floggings.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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:
And that night there came on a terrific storm, with driving rain, awful claps of thunder and blinding sheets of lightning. He covered his head with the bedclothes and waited in a horror of suspense for his doom; for he had not the shadow of a doubt that all this hubbub was about him.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Related Symbols: Storms
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes
"Often I says to myself, says I, 'I used to mend all the boys' kites and things, and show 'em where the good fishin' places was, and befriend 'em what I could, and now they've all forgot old Muff when he's in trouble; but Tom don't and Huck don't—they don't forget him,' says I, 'and I don't forget them.'"
Related Characters: Muff Potter (speaker), Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes
Huck was always willing to take a hand in any enterprise that offered entertainment and required no capital, for he had a troublesome superabundance of that sort of time which is not money.
Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27 Quotes
Then it occurred to him that the great adventure itself must be a dream! There was one very strong argument in favor of this idea—namely, that the quantity of coin he had seen was too vast to be real.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Related Symbols: The Treasure
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 31 Quotes
Tom got down on his knees and felt below, and then as far around the corner as he could reach with his hands conveniently; he made an effort to stretch yet a little further to the right, and at that moment, not twenty yards away, a human hand, holding a candle, appeared from behind a rock! Tom lifted up a glorious shout, and instantly that hand was followed by the body it belonged to—Injun Joe's! Tom was paralyzed ; he could not move. He was instantly gratified, the next moment, to see the "Spaniard" take to his heels and get himself out of sight.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe
Related Symbols: The Cave
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 33 Quotes
Injun Joe lay stretched upon the ground, dead, with his face close to the crack of the door, as if his longing eyes had been fixed, to the latest moment, upon the light and the cheer of the free world outside. Tom was touched, for he knew by his own experience how this wretch had suffered.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe
Related Symbols: The Cave
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes
"Lookyhere, Tom, being rich ain't what it's cracked up to be. It's just worry and worry, and sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you was dead all the time. Now these clothes suit me, and this bar'l suits me, and I ain't ever going to shake 'em any more."
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn
Related Symbols: The Treasure
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis: