The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is a tale of a boy’s passage into adulthood. Mark Twain depicts this passage through a series of adventures. Tom’s adventures offered him the freedom he longed for and a chance to discover his own moral conscience while escaping the rules of society and acceptable behavior. But in the end, Tom adheres to society rules and limitations and becomes a responsible person with a desire to be a part of society.
Adult rules and expectations as well as societies bind Tom’s life. Tom is a mischievous and quick-witted free spirit who can’t stand anyone who tries to repress his carefree nature.
Tom’s life with Aunt Polly is one of strict regime of behavior, clothing, and cleanliness. Once he came home late and Aunt Polly punished him by turning “his Saturday holiday into captivity at hard labor”, (p443). Also, he has to be in bed by half past nine and say his prayers every night.
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Tom also hated Monday mornings for that meant “another week’s slow suffering in school”, (p462). He would try his best to fake an illness or wish it were a holiday of some sort just so he could go and play with his friends. And if faking an illness did not get him out of school, he would play hooky. Whenever he was caught by the teacher for playing hooky, Tom always “took his flogging”, (p486), without a care for he enjoyed his day of hooky so much that he didn’t care.
Then there was church and Sunday school, a tradition in the south, which he hated the most for he had to sit still and listen to the boring sermons. At church, Judge Thatcher pointed out to Tom that he would be a “great man” and owe it all to “the precious Sunday-school privileges”, (p458). Thus, Tom was fed up with the rules of society and wanted to have absolute freedom.
No matter where Tom was, school or church, he always yearned for his freedom. Tom finally has enough of societies expectations when Becky Thatcher rejects him by returning his brass andiron knob, “this final feather broke the camel’s back”, (p486). He teams up with Joe Harper who is in a similar situation and they both run away to Jackson Island by way of raft.
They both assume pirate names and decide to live like pirates because “they have just a bully time…[they] take ships, and burn them, and get the money and bury it in awful places [but] they don’t kill the women-they’re too noble”, (p31, Spark Notes 2002). On this Island there are no rules to abide by and no grown-ups to punish you. There first night, they eat stolen food and sleep under the stars. When they awake, they realize how peaceful and enjoyable life can be. And upon finding that their raft has floated away they realize that they are truly isolated from civilization and the ball and chain of society is finally broken.
Thus, Tom appears to be happy but in reality his conscience revolted inside. While on the Island, Tom constantly wrestled with his conscience for running away and stealing food from others. Tom felt so guilty that he couldn’t sleep, “then conscience granted a truce, and these curiously inconsistent pirates fell peacefully asleep”, (p498). Tom’s conscience haunts him throughout his adventures between good and bad. Tom takes an oath with Huck in blood never to reveal the story of the murder of Dr. Robinson lest they get killed by Injun Joe. Tom tries to ease his conscience by smuggling “small comforts” to Muff Potter in prison. In the end Tom tells the truth and saves Muff Potter. In a sense, Tom has conformed to society and become “respectable”.
Throughout the better part of the novel, Tom Sawyer can’t stand the rules that adults and society impose on him. Therefore, he dreams and schemes of ways to get out of those daily rituals that bind him. At times he is successful in escaping without punishment. When he runs away to Jackson Island, he learns for the first time how quiet and peaceful freedom was, “there was a delicious sense of repose and peace in the deep pervading calm and silence of the woods”, (p498). There were no rules to abide by, no school, no church and no Sunday school sermons to listen to. Life couldn’t be more perfect for all he did was fish, swim, and play games all day. But it would be this peace and quiet that would undermine his freedom, for he became lonely and homesick. Tom returns to the confining rules of society and becomes a mature morally conscious person when he stands up for Muff Potter. In the end, Tom wants to be a part of society and no one can join his gang of robbers unless they are “respectable”.
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