“Make good choices!”

September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

On my way to my first day of school my dad yells, “make good choices!” as I rush out the door. This is the same old routine since Kindergarten. At this point it’s just a family joke that’s become tradition, but when I was in elementary school I think that this was my dad’s way of managing a world in which he had no power or control – school as a frontier.

School is a place where children make their own decisions and parents must temporarily revoke their power. It is a boundary of parental power, creating a frontier between the world they’ve created at home and the real world. There is no way for parents to possibly know about every single thing that you do or who you talk to while you’re at school, and that’s scary for them. It is a place of unknown, where ideas, types of students, and interests mix, and people are shaped. This coming together of the unknown and known is reflective of the environment created at the schoolhouse in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

The schoolhouse is a place where respectable society and outcasts are forced to intermingle. Judge Thatcher and Mrs. Thatcher can’t stop Becky from playing with an outcast like Huckleberry Finn when he comes to school because in this frontier land Becky has the freedom to choose what she wants to do. Children who weren’t normally supposed to play together are now able to play when they are put into the same setting. This allows them to see that they are exactly alike regardless of which slot society put them in. Clearly Tom and Huck strike up a great friendship because they have similar interests – pirates, troublemaking, getting rich – and these aren’t necessarily things that Tom should be doing in Aunt Polly’s opinion. As “respectable society” and the “outcasts” are able to spend time together and forget about labels they are able to see that they are more alike than they thought.

This intersection is extremely pivotal in a child’s life because it allows them to realize that societal constraints aren’t always based in truth. School is a place that fosters this intersection and therefore this realization. As Tim Flannery writes in The Eternal Frontier, “…the frontier experience has changed them all, each time creating a new and distinctive manifestation of life.” The frontier is a place where students are exposed to and learn about the reality of society, and can ultimately make their own “good choices”.


A Brand New Look at Mark Twain

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

As seen in previous posts, Tom Sawyer’s story is loosely based off of the childhood of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemons). However, until recently the general public did not have access to a very detailed description of Twain’s political and maybe more controversial adult life.

Looking at  the New York Times article from July 9, 2010, we can see a new window into the later years of the mysterious American author. A three volume autobiography of Twain will be released this November giving us further insight. This new look at Twain will feel much more personal, conversational, and pure because Twain decided to speak his life story while a stenographer recorded. All of Twain’s life – the days reminiscent of Tom Sawyer’s adventures to his passionate feelings towards critics – are captured in this very telling work.

What I find most interesting about this upcoming autobiography is the lack of censorship the style it is written in allows for. I think this will show us the true Twain, unfiltered. Things like his political opinions will be even more interesting now to look at them in a current context. As Larry Rohter said, “Twain’s opposition to incipient imperialism and American military intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, for example, were well known even in his own time. But the uncensored autobiography makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers.”

All of these new realizations about Twain and his personal opinions unfiltered, do not necessarily affect the way we see his writing or interaction with nature. We know his life was centered around his love for nature and he spent most of it experiencing nature, but it is interesting to examine his opinion and relation to society. This may or may not have affected the works he wrote in his life, but it is another interesting thing to look for in his writing.

The Appeal of the Natural World

August 29, 2010 § 4 Comments

In this passage of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain sets up a contrast between the natural world and the civilized world of St. Petersburg in order to demonstrate the desirability of the natural world. It is a scene that shows Tom’s longing for adventure and escape from the regularity of school and the rules that society makes him live by. He sets up the contrast between the schoolhouse where Tom Sawyer is daydreaming of freedom and the natural wonders of Cardiff Hill outside the window. He describes the environment inside as having “air [that] was utterly dead” and “not a breath stirring” (53). These descriptions suggest a lack of life in the school, even when there are twenty lively school children inside. He illustrates the boredom and loss of life that Tom Sawyer feels, as he is contained within societal expectations. On the other hand, the passage describes the outdoors as having “flaming sunshine” and a “shimmering veil of heat” (53). The uses of warmth and heat as a description of nature add to the liveliness of the outdoors. The nature also is “tinted with the purple of distance” (53). The color purple is not frequently found in the civilized world and it illustrates the rarity and excitement that comes with the unknown in the natural world. Also the use of “distance” portrays a lack of control and restriction, supporting the sense of freedom that Tom associates with nature. In addition, Twain describes a sparsely populated Cardiff Hill, with few cows and birds, allowing for open space and room for freedom. These animals represent a more primal life, and since they do not serve as authority figures in this culture, their home symbolizes an area without rules or restrictions. This juxtaposition of the civilized world and the natural shows that animals are a part of the natural world and humans are a part of the civilized. Tom longs to be in the free, lively world of nature but the rules of society, the need to go to school and follow traditions and customs, prevent him.

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