The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


Mark Twain

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer makes teaching easy.
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.
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon

The adults of quaint St. Petersburg see themselves as a law-abiding, church-going, family-based group that must police its children. The most respected figure in the novel is Judge Thatcher, who is in charge of administering the law. Virtually every villager shows up to church on Sunday, so that community is formed through an agreed upon set of moral values. The education of the village's children consists largely of learning to follow inflexible rules that are intended to protect these values. The adventures of Tom and his friends often reveal gaps in the adults' logic and inconsistencies in their behavior, with the adults saying one thing but acting otherwise. For example, Aunt Polly tries to force herself to consistently punish to Tom for his rule breaking. But she often compromises herself by administering a lesser punishment, such as tapping him on the head with her thimble when she had originally threatened to whip him with her switch. While Tom is often punished for being untrue to his word, Aunt Polly is not, but remains a moral authority. Twain uses the playful games and interactions of children to also humorously reflect hypocrisy on the broader scale of 19th-century American society and its religion, temperance movement, medical beliefs, and social snobbery. Aunt Polly's belief in "quack" medicines isn't that different from Tom's in black magic, for instance, but medical authorities support her superstitions. To take another example, when Tom briefly joins the Cadets of Temperance, he is motivated by the social status he'll gain in wearing a fancy sash rather than any conviction about the ills of substance abuse. Surely the adults involved in the temperance movement are similarly motivated.

Even if Twain is cutting in his dismissive attitude toward abstract social causes that involve hypocrisy, he sees it as an inevitable and condonable aspect of life in a community. Adults fail to follow through on their word regarding the several adventures Tom undertakes that involve his leaving the village. In running away to Jackson's Island, getting lost in the cave, and tracking down Injun Joe's treasure, Tom and his friends break serious rules, yet in each case the villagers welcome the children home again without punishing them. The adults can hardly be condemned for their hypocrisy in desiring the children's safety, which underscores Twain's belief in the ultimate goodness of community. The individual who does deserve punishment in the novel is the villain Injun Joe, whose desire for revenge against both Dr. Robinson and the widow Douglas reveal that he is incapable of forgiving others, or bending the rules as a hypocrite might. Hypocrisy is a complicated issue in Twain's depiction of St. Petersburg, for the flawed logic it involves is worth noting, but hypocrisy is ultimately a very human, even necessary flaw.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
Get the entire The Adventures of Tom Sawyer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer PDF

The Hypocrisy of Adult Society 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 The Hypocrisy of Adult Society.
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
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 16
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
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes
She gathered together her quack periodicals and her quack medicines, and thus armed with death, went about on her pale horse, metaphorically speaking, with "hell following after." But she never suspected that she was not an agent of healing and the balm of Gilead in disguise, to the suffering neighbors.
Related Characters: Aunt Polly
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 85
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 24 Quotes
As usual, the fickle, unreasoning world took Muff Potter to its bosom and fondled him as lavishly as it had abused him before. But that sort of conduct is to the world's credit; therefore it is not well to find fault with it.
Related Characters: Muff Potter
Related Symbols: The Village
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes
Wherever Tom and Huck appeared they were courted, admired, stared at. The boys were not able to remember that their remarks had possessed weight before; but now their sayings were treasured and repeated; everything they did seemed somehow to be regarded as remarkable; they had evidently lost the power of doing and saying commonplace things; moreover, their past history was raked up and discovered to bear marks of conspicuous originality.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn
Related Symbols: The Village
Page Number: 226-227
Explanation and Analysis:
"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: