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.
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up ThemeTracker
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Quotes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
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.