The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. It is set in the 1840s in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived as a boy. In the novel Tom has several adventures, often with his friend, Huck. One such adventure, Tom's whitewashing of a fence, has been adapted into paintings and referenced in other pieces of popular culture. Originally a commercial failure the book ended up being the best selling of any of Twain's works during his lifetime.
Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. He skips school to swim and is made to whitewash the fence the next day as punishment. He cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work.
Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get "engaged" by kissing him. But their romance collapses when she learns Tom has been "engaged" previously to Amy Lawrence. Shortly after Becky shuns him, he accompanies Huckleberry Finn to the graveyard at night, where they witness a trio of body snatchers, Dr. Robinson, Muff Potter, and Injun Joe, getting into a fight in which Robinson is murdered by Injun Joe.
Tom And Huckleberry Finn swear a blood oath to not tell anyone about the murder, as they feel that if they do, Injun Joe would murder them.
Bored by school, Tom, his best friend Joe Harper, and Huck run away to an island in the Mississippi called Jackson's Island. While enjoying their new-found freedom, they become aware that the community is sounding the river for their bodies. Tom sneaks back home one night to observe the commotion. After a brief moment of remorse at his loved ones' suffering, he is struck by the idea of appearing at his own funeral. The trio later carry out this scheme by making a sensational sudden appearance in the church in the middle of their joint funeral service.
Back in school, Tom gets himself back in Becky's favor after he nobly accepts the blame and punishment for a book she has ripped.
In court, Joe pins the murder on Muff Potter, but Tom and Huckleberry Finn know he is innocent. At Potter's trial, Tom decides to speak out and Joe escapes through a window before he can be apprehended. Henceforth the boys live in constant fear of Joe's revenge on them for incriminating him.
Summer arrives, and Tom and Huck go hunting for buried treasure in a haunted house. After venturing upstairs they hear a noise below. Peering through holes in the floor, they see Injun Joe disguised as a deaf-mute Spaniard; Injun Joe and his companion plan to bury some stolen treasure of their own. From their hiding spot, Tom and Huck wriggle with delight at the prospect of digging it up. By chance the villains discover an even greater gold hoard buried in the hearth and carry it all off to a better secret hiding place. The boys are determined to find where it has gone. One night Huck spots them and follows them. He overhears their plans to attack the wealthy Widow Douglas. By running to fetch help, Huck prevents the crime and becomes an anonymous hero.
In the meantime, Tom goes on a picnic to McDougal's Cave with Becky and their classmates. Tom and Becky get separated from the others and wander lost in the extensive cave complex for the next few days. Becky gets extremely dehydrated and starved, so Tom's search for a way out gets even more desperate. He accidentally encounters Injun Joe in the caves one day, but is not seen by his nemesis. Eventually, he finds a way out, and they are joyfully welcomed back by their community. As a preventive measure, Judge Thatcher, Becky's father, has McDougal's Cave sealed off with an iron door, but this traps Injun Joe inside. When Tom hears of the sealing several days later and directs a posse to the cave, they find Injun Joe's corpse just inside the sealed entrance, starved to death.
A week later, having deduced from Injun Joe's presence at McDougal's Cave that the villain must have hidden the stolen gold inside, Tom takes Huck to the cave and they find the box of gold, the proceeds of which are invested for them. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, but he finds the restrictions of a civilized home life painful. He attempts to escape back to his vagrant life. Tom tricks him into thinking that he can later join Tom's new scheme of starting a robber band if he returns to the widow. Reluctantly, Huck agrees and goes back to her.
The novel has elements of humor, satire and social criticism; features that later made Mark Twain one of the most important authors of American literature. Mark Twain describes some autobiographical events in the book. The novel is set around Twain's actual boyhood home of Hannibal, near St. Louis, and many of the places in it are real and today support a tourist industry as a result.
Tom Sawyer is Twain's first attempt to write a novel on his own. He had previously written contemporary autobiographical narratives (The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress, Roughing It) and two short texts called sketches which parody the youth literature of the time. These are The Story of the Good Boy and The Story of the Wicked Little Boy which are satirical texts of a few pages. In the first, a model child is never rewarded and ends up dying before he can declaim his last words which he has carefully prepared. In the second story, an evil little boy steals and lies, like Tom Sawyer, but finishes rich and successful. Tom appears as a mixture of these little boys, since he is at the same time a scamp and a boy endowed with a certain generosity.
By the time he wrote Tom Sawyer, Twain was already a successful author based on the popularity of The Innocents Abroad. He owned a large house in Hartford, Connecticut but needed another success to support himself, with a wife and two daughters. He had collaborated on a novel with Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age published in 1874.
He had earlier written an unpublished memoir of his own life on the Mississippi and corresponded with a boyhood friend, Will Bowen, that had evoked many memories and was used as a source of material.
Twain named his fictional character after a San Francisco fireman whom he met in June 1863. The real Tom Sawyer was a local hero, famous for rescuing 90 passengers after a shipwreck. The two remained friendly during Twain's three-year stay in San Francisco, often drinking and gambling together.
In November 1875 Twain gave the manuscript to Elisha Bliss of the American Publishing Company, who sent it to True Williams for the illustrations. A little later, Twain had the text also quickly published at Chatto and Windus of London, in June 1876, but without illustration. Pirate editions appeared very quickly in Canada and Germany. The American Publishing Company finally published its edition in December 1876, which was the first illustrated edition of Tom Sawyer.
These two editions differ slightly. After completing his manuscript, Twain had a copy made of it. It is this copy which was read and annotated by his friend William Dean Howells. Twain then made his own corrections based on Howells comments which he later incorporated in the original manuscript, but some corrections escaped him. The English edition was based on this corrected copy, while the illustrated American edition was based on the original manuscript. To further complicate matters, Twain was personally concerned with the revision of the proofs of the American edition, which he did not do for the English edition. The American edition is therefore considered the authoritative edition.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2012)