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 reader) further entertainment. By its end, Tom's more mature self has become capable of greater sophistication, and he earns the spotlight through less clownish behavior. His final discovery of buried treasure, for example, makes him the envy of everyone in town, with many villagers even seeing him as a model for their own behavior as they set off to hunt for buried treasure in haunted houses. Notably, they want to be able to boast their wealth, just like him, so he is hardly alone in his vanity. At its worst, his showing off reveals a selfish strain in Tom's character. Yet Twain depicts the need for attention as just a minor vice, because it is based in a social instinct for connecting to others in the community. Even the teachers at the Sunday school yearn to be recognized as they try to impress Judge Thatcher when he visits their classroom. The only character who begrudges Tom his dramatic flair is Sid, who is mean-spirited and a loner.
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 Showing Off 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 Showing Off.
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.
Page Number and Citation:
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.