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 own experiences growing up, implying that little has been reinvented. Yet, even as he sets out to tell the stories of ordinary villagers with beliefs and values that represent those of many mid-nineteenth-century Americans, Twain adds embellishments to his depiction, playing up the quaintness of village life. A more realistic view of a community would stress, for example, unresolved injustices, the disparity between rich and poor, or the life of a slave in St. Petersburg (as Twain will do in another novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). And there are elements of realism in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, for example Twain's descriptions of Huck's life as a homeless boy who is looked down upon by his elders. Even so, as a novel consisting of many short stories with happy endings, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is largely a sentimental portrait of Mississippi village life, offering St. Petersburg as Twain would like to remember it. Twain does this purposefully to show the reader how building a community involves a sense of optimism. Twain structures the end of the book like a romantic tale, with Tom and Huck actually discovering treasure in a haunted house—a completely improbable plot twist. He implicates the reader in enjoying fanciful stories more than realistic ones.
Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sentimentality and Realism appears in each chapter of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Below you will find the important quotes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer related to the theme of Sentimentality and Realism.
Chapter 2 Quotes
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 21 Quotes
There is no school in all our land where the young ladies do not feel obliged to close their compositions with a sermon; and you will find that the sermon of the most frivolous and least religious girl in the school is always the longest and the most relentlessly pious.
Page Number and Citation:
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!
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.
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.
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.