Tom Sawyer is one of those literary characters who are so ingrained into the public consciousness, that even if you don’t know anything about him, the name will still sound familiar. This was kind of the situation I was in when I went into it, with one exception…
Before reading, I was also familiar with the iconic whitewashing scene, which has had countless parodies and tributes paid to it throughout the years in popular culture. In it, Tom essentially passes off the boring job of whitewashing onto somebody else, by making it out to be much more exciting than it is. It’s a clever and funny little moment.
But, anyway, to the book at large: in the introduction, Twain explains that the happenings within the book are based on many real people and events from his own childhood. In a way, this is very much what it feels like: somebody sharing interesting anecdotes from their childhood.
On the one hand, it’s great to know that many of the happenings from the book are based on things which happened in reality. It’s always nice for a novel to have that authenticity. What’s especially appealing to me is that even though this was written in America in the 19th century, there are still times when I relate to the experiences of the boys within it. Their obsession with wanting to dig up treasure and desire to be pirates, without ever really comprehending the true nature of piracy, are two things I definitely went through as a child.
On the other hand, it really is just like somebody telling interesting anecdotes from their childhood. By which I mean, not much effort is made with character development and the overall plot structure is very loose and is really just a string of events. Tom and his friends get into scrapes and have fun in different ways in each chapter – that’s it. I also felt like the novel as a whole was lacking in much emotional value. Perhaps it was banking too much on making people feel nostalgic?
So, as much as I enjoyed reading it and am glad that I did, I feel that it was lacking in quite a few areas. The story was definitely interesting and I was surprised by quite how dark it got at times, but despite the serious events which take place, I feel like the writing was quite removed from the associated intensity of emotion. Plus, there’s a somewhat uncomfortable portrayal for the novel’s sole Native American character – although I did feel like it was kind of progressive in other areas. It’s not very long and worth a read, but I certainly don’t consider it to be one of the greatest novels of all time…