Battling With Nature

September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the novel Tom Sawyer, Twain portrays the constant battle between civilization and nature. Living in Missouri, Tom and his community are on the edge of the “wild west” and their lives constantly intersected with nature. At the time, nature was thought to be uncontrollable and more powerful than humans. However, nowadays in the many cities and suburban areas, nature seems to be completely overpowered by cement.

In Tom Sawyer, the white fence around his house marks an intersection between nature and civility. Aunt Polly constantly attempts to maintain her manicured yard, while nature tries to force its way inward. At the time and up until the early 1900’s the goal was colonize untamed land. This is the mindset that spread far and wide in the east inspiring adventurous people with the lure of opportunity. The frontier began as the land west of the original colonies and continued to be pushed west along with the boarder of civilization. Due to the danger and isolation of life in the west, it was primarily settled by adventurous men, farmers and miners. But overtime, the promise of a fresh start brought all kinds of people westward. Eventually, people took this one step too far. The idea of the frontier as open land and new opportunity is no longer and the goal has switched from colonization to preservation. Nowadays, our frontiers are more metaphorical rather than physical boundaries.

Similarly, many at the time feared the seemingly powerful and wild nature. In trying to cross the fast moving river, Tom was putting his life at the mercy of the river. Nature was dangerous and demanded respect. In present time, I can’t think of a major river that has been dammed. Humans have undermined the strength of nature in order to control it. Everything is safer. Bridges have been built, roads have been paved. Nature no longer carries the same influence that it did once.

Currently, we are facing a different battle with nature, but a battle nonetheless. Due to overpopulation and over development much of our natural resources have been exhausted. Rather than the past battle to keep nature out of our lives, we are trying to reenter it. While giving up the control we have over it is unrealistic, nature in a more civilized way is being preserved. In an attempt to repopulate the once vast forests, trees are constantly being planted. However, its interesting to think that the modern day idea of a forest is neatly planted rows to maximize efficiency.

Nature in Twain’s Life

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is evident in Twain’s writing that he himself has a close relationship with nature. Similar to in Tom’s life, nature played a large role in Twain’s own life. The way he describes Tom’s control over nature, lack of control over nature and empowerment from nature are all taken from personal experiences.

As mentioned in pervious posts, it is fascinating to note that Mark Twain was the pen name chosen by Samuel Clemens. Mark Twain means “mark number two“, which signified the safe river depth for steam boats. The fact that he chose the name to be remembered by based on nature further demonstrates his relationship with it. He wants to always associate himself with nature.

At the age of twenty three, Twain became a steam boat pilot along the Mississippi river. As a boat pilot you work with nature daily in order to travel and deliver your goods. Twain later wrote about his experiences learning the river in “Life On the Mississippi“. This experience taught Twain not only how to conquer nature, but also how to work with it and learn from it.

It is interesting to read in the posts above that many people believe Tom Sawyer, to be partly an autobiography. I have to agree somewhat with what my peers have written because while every experience is not directly taken from his childhood, the essence and emotions are all ones Twain is familiar with. In some ways, I believe that Twain wrote Tom’s life to be what he wished his own had been. Twain’s father died when Twain was young and therefore forced him to mature quickly. Rather than playing with friends, Twain was forced to work at a young age. This is quite different from the adventurous and childish life Tom lead and is a reflection of Twain’s desires as a child.

Escape From Civility

August 30, 2010 § 3 Comments

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain illustrates the dichotomy between civil and primal through the juxtaposition the town and nature. Throughout the novel, Tom finds it difficult to abide by the rules in his civilized life. Both at home and at school, Tom struggles to find peace in the civility of his life. At school, “Tom’s heart aches to be free” (46) however, he is forced to sit and pay attention. This demonstrates how Tom feels uncomfortable being civilized at school. Tom uses the tick as an escape from school to nature. He “released” (46) the tick from its box. Similarly, Tom and his friend Joe were “suffering” (46) being caged up in school, like the tick in its box. Watching the “tick [try] this and that” (46) was a portal out of the “dreary time” (46) at school into nature. The boys’ interest in the tick rather than school depicts how the primal essence of nature is fascinating to them. Rather than letting the tick just wander, the boys “harassed” (46) the tick with their pins. By making the tick their “prisoner” (46), the boys were asserting their power over nature. Although this was small feat, it “excited” (46) and made the boys “anxious” (46) to control the tick. This small distraction was the boys’ version of a rebellion against the rules of the school. Twain is suggesting that controlling part of nature, no matter how small, empowers and excites the boys.

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