The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


Mark Twain

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Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape 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.
Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape Theme Icon

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 fantasy, re-imagining the world to entertain himself. This might involve play-acting with other boys, or exaggerating his own achievements. He collects superstitious beliefs and tokens—typically everyday cast-off objects reinvented—with which to flavor his tall tales.

Tom draws from books he's read about Robin Hood, pirates, and other adventurers to imagine himself as the hero of a romantic tale and thereby view his everyday woes in a more glamorous light. His maturation over the course of the novel, however, largely involves his learning to differentiate this romantic world from reality. He begins to develop this ability when he runs away with Huck Finn and Joe Harper to Jackson Island, his first "real" physical escape from St. Petersburg. The boys create an alternate reality on the island, with new names and histories for each of them. Their island adventure reveals the fun to be had in escaping through rule-breaking, as the boys leave the strictures of society behind altogether, parading around naked and even abandoning their families by allowing them to believe they've drowned. They learn, however, that no escape is permanent, feeling homesick rather than courageous on the island. Only upon returning to the warm embrace of the villagers who thought them dead do the boys come to feel heroic. At the novel's end, Tom no longer feels the same longing to escape St. Petersburg, and even chastises Huck for running away from the widow Douglas's home, insisting that he return there if he want to join Tom's new gang. Tom has matured into an adult who, like the rest of his community, takes pride in his new wealth and status, and his clever ability to manipulate others will now serve him as he assumes a leadership position as an adult in St. Petersburg (as a lawyer, if Judge Thatcher has his way).

The adults of St. Petersburg are themselves susceptible to flights of fancy—consider the minister's extraordinary descriptions of the apocalypse in his church sermon. Twain's depiction of Tom's playful games are delightful to read over the course of the novel, and while he must gain a more realistic view of life as an adult, Twain suggests fantasy provides a way for people to handle the harshness of reality.

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Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape 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 Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape.
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.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 22
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 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 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 22 Quotes
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
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 150
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: