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Tom Sawyer Hypocrisy Of His Word English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2310 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Mark Twain’s has used his title character Tom Sawyer to highlight the hypocrisy residing in human nature, particularly in the adults within the rural area of St, Petersburg, in his novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom Sawyer’s actions in the novel are a series of entertainments and the reader comes to understand through these series of entertainments that they are also a cycle of exposures which reveal the absurdity and hypocrisy of his world. Tom spends most of the novel as an adventurous rebellion but is through him and the help of the characters residing in St, Petersburg that Mark Twain has unmasked the veil of deceitfulness in the people of Tom Sawyer’s community – because although Twain has exposed the crude reality of adult life in the text by literary devices like mockery, dramatic monologue and satire, ultimately it is through Tom Sawyer’s actions, both in his childhood and his maturation through the book, that social irrationality and hypocrisy are brought to their true colours. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is perhaps an excellent read to overtly discover and help one learn about the judgments and beliefs of the people of the time; it is not a book written in contemporary times about an earlier period in history. The author has lived through these times and so wrote about what he knew to be true of people and their behaviour. Throughout the book Tom Sawyer is presented almost as a con-artist, like a trickster figure who goes against the system of conventional society. He and his younger half-brother Sid live and abide by the rules of their highly conservative Aunt Polly, and Tom gets involved in a variety of dilemmas to break away from the impositions of adult society, particularly work and school. For example, in chapter six, Tom does everything he can to stay home from school. He pretends that his sore toe hurts so much that he’s going to die – and he pretends so hard that he actually begins to believe his own lies and tells Sid that he should give his ‘cat with one eye to that new girl that’s come to town’ [1] . This is merely an example of receiving an insight into the character of Tom Sawyer, and it is through these kinds of similar actions from Tom that expose the hypocrisy of his world. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is above the level than just a young boy’s adventures in the little town of St Petersburg alongside the Mississippi River; and this is the kind nature this essay will be focusing on to a get more detailed discussion on the existing topic of the confliction between adult behaviours in the novel, because below Tom Sawyer’s childish character of youthful purity lies a much more sinister reality tackling the cruel dishonesty and deceitfulness of the adult society.

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Tom Sawyer is a character who indulges in mischievous acts and comes across as a playful boy who, throughout most of the novel, spends getting himself into trouble. But that comes as no surprise because he lives in a society characterised by the values and traditions of boys. For example, he analysis newcomers in fights because ‘a newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little village of St Petersburg’ [2] ; and at one particular incident in the book, Tom bumps into this meticulous newcomer and ‘this boy was well dressed, well dressed on a weekday’ and ‘this was simply astounding’ [3] – so Tom felt undermined and inferior because ‘ the more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery, and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow’ (page 11) – thus Tom had to satisfy his self-esteem and indulged into a fight with the boy and struck him to the ground into a wrestling match in the dust to make his clothes filthy and bring him down to his level. During the first part of the novel, Tom gets involved in many risky or unexpected undertaking and pranks, merely giving thoughts to the consequences; Tom Sawyer is illustrated as a careless character who tricks people – and although some are smart enough to see through his fraud, others are more easily fooled by his deceptions. For example, the Sunday church has a system for rewarding good pupils: if a student memorizes enough verses and gets enough tickets, they win a Bible in return. And Tom Sawyer deceives not only the kids to give him the tickets but also the Superintendent in making him believe that he had actually memorized two thousand verses: ‘it was simply preposterous that this boy had warehoused two thousand sheaves of Scriptural wisdom on his premises’ [4] . This is tested when, after much praise on his intelligence and knowledge, he is asked by Judge Thatcher to tell him ‘the names of the first two (out of the twelve disciples) that were appointed’ [5] . Tom, who almost certainly didn’t even know how many apostles there were in the first instance, blurts out the first two names that come to his witty mind: ‘David and Goliath’. Although Twain ends the scene suddenly, saving Tom from any additional humiliation, we discover that it is these kind of rebellious entertainment from Tom Sawyer that expose the absurdity and hypocrisies of his world such as churchgoers who seem more concerned in the frolics of a bug rather than concentrating on the sermon, or perhaps a society where the teachers whip the children in a desperate attempt to make a rather good performance on the examination day to not only embrace their vanity but also get drunk before the event. The next chapter discusses some of Twain’s themes of adult hypocrisy in the society of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Tom Sawyer might seem like a complicated character that constantly gets into complex situations, but this might have been perhaps carefully stage-managed by Mark Twain for maximum effect to help mock and condemn the values and norms of the adult world where he hopes Tom to eventually reach. For example, on chapter 18, Twain portrays the hypocritical tendency of civilization to value and praise simply when it has lost them: the residents of St Petersburg come to believe that Joe Harper, Tom, and Huck have drowned – and suddenly, all those who criticised and disapproved of them prior to the incident are now praising them and that is when Tom Sawyer ‘became a pirate who felt that the public eye was on him, and indeed it was’ [6] ; because here is a boy who goes against all the conventional values and norms set by his society and all of a sudden he is eulogized simply because of his absence. On his return from his stay at Jackson Island where he pretends to be a pirate, Tom is welcomed back a hero – this is might be because the people in his town believed that the boys were never to be seen again, but nonetheless one cannot help but ask: How was Tom treated beforehand? Freedom is another theme which Twain has carefully engineered in the novel, it plays a large role in the text and Huckleberry Finn is the perfect example of freedom in a society where everything is dictated by adults. Just like Tom, Huck is adventurous and is against being conventional to any of the routines set by his society so he does whatever he wills. He is another character Twain uses to evaluate the pros and cons of society, and because of Huck’s lawless lifestyle, he is despised and puts anxiety upon the mothers of St Petersburg for their children all admire his unconventional way living: ‘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’ [7] . The different thoughts towards Huckleberry expose the enormous gap between the morals of the children and the adult. Nonetheless, it also shows the utterly and obviously senseless judgements of the adults Twain portraits in his novel – before Huck ‘saved’ the Widow Douglas, this is how he was considered, but after his brave act by alerting Mr Jones about the intention of Injun Joe’s attack on the widow, he was welcomed with warm hands into society as yet another hero. There is a wide difference between the relationship of the society of the adults and the one of the children in the book and the next chapter accumulates the two arguments and discusses how the mischievous boys of St Petersburg seem to live in a different society from that of the adults.

Most of the children in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer try to undermine any sort of authority, particularly those that come from the adults, and perhaps this is to puncture adult arrogance, and rather declare their own freedom and sovereignty. The youth in the text are greatly stereotyped by the adults and this is one of the main reason the children seem to behave in different kind of rebellious acts; their intelligence are over ridiculed by the arrogance of the adult mind To make a final noteworthy moment on the war of adult absurdity and hypocrisy in the novel, below is a quote from chapter 25:

‘Tom was a glittering hero once more – the pet of the old, the envy of the young. His name even went into immortal print, for the village paper magnified him. There were some that believed he would be president yet, if he escaped hanging’ [8] .

This quote of praise is for Tom’s unselfish confession in giving evidence against the real killer of Dr Robinson, Injun Joe. It illustrates that the people of St Petersburg believe that Tom has what it takes to be a president – an expression which defines the limitless boundaries of the crude and paradoxical adult beliefs; at one hand, they think of him as a devious and selfish boy, the next he is capable of becoming the president if he escapes being hanged – this is not just another example of Tom’s actions which, yet again, exposes more of the adult hypocrisy, but also an example of how Twain continuously satirizes hypocrisy in the novel; Twain’s language continually highlights all the elements that structure and function the society’s representation and he repeatedly suggests this through Tom’s actions.

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Throughout the first part of the novel, we are mainly shown most part of Tom’s rebellious and deceitful acts, but after he and the boys come back from the ‘drown’, Tom conducts himself more traditionally and is eventually accepted and privileged by his society. Huckleberry Finn is another character who throughout the novel only thinks about the, essential, but ‘selfish business of survival’. However, he also goes through a process of moral growth towards the end of the story – particularly in the incident when he saves the Widow Douglas from the town’s villain Injun Joe: she later makes an effort to show her gratefulness by educating and civilizing Huck when she adopts him and ‘introduced him into society’ (page 217). It can be argued that hypocrisy in the society of St Petersburg is rather due to a lack of entertainment; Twain uses the Sunday School scene to emphasise more on his satirical dialect and highlights that the grown-ups conduct themselves no better than the children, and that they are all motivated by arrogance. For example, when Judge Thatcher enters the Church, all the adults, from teachers to parents, fall to ‘showing off’ and even Judge Thatcher too, trying to look impressive. Despite the fact that Tom is presented as a rebellious youth in most part of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and it is fair to argue that he is a ‘sanctioned rebel’, he ultimately matures and gains credit for genuine bravery in his society because ‘his rebellion is limited in time and intention and has respectability at its other end’ [9] : Tom is always concerned with his boundaries and never tries to intentionally transgress them in any deliberate manner. Twain has successfully portrayed ‘that youth can function in direct relation to the dominant adult culture […] but within this culture, youth rebellion is inherently unavoidable because youth interacts, challenges and criticises the adult world’ [10] . And although both Tom and Huck are unenthusiastic to be part of such a civilized society, the novel ends happily with a unified civilization freed from the hypocritical arrogance of the old and the menace of the young.


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