Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a story of childhood adventure and, as such, the story’s titular hero finds himself in a number of troublesome predicaments, usually as a result of his own childishly unchecked curiosity. Through Tom’s adventures in overcoming these predicaments, Twain paints a remarkably accurate picture of the joys, fears, and trials of childhood which, in turn, makes Tom one of the most well-realized characters in the American canon. And despite the book’s short length, by its end, Tom’s growth has already begun to foreshadow the end of childhood and the unavoidable ascent into an adult world.
All that symbolic character growth aside, what struck me during my recent reading of Tom Sawyer was the book’s timelessness – and its unexpected applicability to the modern world.
When Tom convinces the neighborhood boys not just to paint a fence for him, but to pay him for the opportunity to do so, he stands as a model for future capitalist hucksters, creating a need where none ought to exist and then charging heavily for the satisfaction of said need. When Tom, Huck, and Joe run away from home to live in isolation playing at a pirate’s life, the boys are essentially playing an exhaustively real-life MMORPG until their human needs drive them away from the game and back into society. And finally, when Tom’s overconfidence traps Becky and him in an endless series of caves, he stands as any overmatched leader might, putting a brave face on tragedy until chance and fortune save him.
That applicability to the modern world, combined with Twain’s unfailingly accessible prose, are part of what make Tom Sawyer so beloved by generation after generation of readers. That and, of course, the fact that Twain depicts characters that are brimming with personality and life. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer remains, nearly 140 years after its publication, an engaging classic and a worthy read.