The Grass is Always Greener

September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Huck Finn wanders the streets of St. Petersburg in dirty, oversized clothes. He has no family, and he lacks a warm place to sleep at night. He is polluted, lonely, and unimportant. When Tom is late for class and admits that he had been talking with the pariah, “The master’s pulse stood still, and he stared helplessly. The buzz of study ceased. The pupils wondered if this foolhardy boy had lost his mind(43).” Despite this, when Huck is given equal means of shelter, food and clothing, he is not pleased. “The bars and shackles of civilization shut him in and bound him hand and foot (196)” because he was no longer allowed the freedoms he enjoyed before as a rugged individual on the streets. Huck ends up running away from his riches, explaining to Tom, “…being rich ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s just worry and worry, and sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you was dead all the time(198).”

Tom Sawyer lives in a comfortable home and has food readily available at every meal. His family is respected, and in turn so is he. But Tom makes a point of running away from his role whenever he gets the chance. Rather than staying at home with Aunt Polly or going school, Tom searches for buried treasure, plays imaginary games as a pirate, runs away to an island outside of town, and ventures deep inside of unchartered caves. Even though Tom was born into a privileged position within St. Petersburg’s class system, he would rather live like Huck.

As Huck maneuvers back and forth between homelessness and the restrictions that come with money and societal respect, Tom tries to escape his comfortable lifestyle to live dangerously and adventurously. These two boys balance on a frontier of the unknown, and more importantly the hypothetical. Unsure of their limits as young boys, they are curious about their potential. Rather than accepting the roles given to them, they explore something else by trying out alternatives. There is a barrier between the comfortable path that has already been laid out for them by society and the wildness of possibility. In this way, they juggle with their identities.

Is this type of frontier of understanding our personal identities something that constantly remains? Or does the frontier eventually cease to exist after we exhaust all possibilities?

Tom Sawyer: An Autobiography?

August 31, 2010 § 5 Comments

Perhaps more than any of Samuel Clemens’ novels, Tom Sawyer is a picture of his childhood in more ways than one. Clemens’ hometown, Hannibal Missouri, is said to be very similar to the town described in Tom Sawyer. On the banks of the Mississippi River, Hannibal was a small rural town surrounded by nature. Clemens includes in the preface of the novel that many of his childhood memories are reenacted in Tom’s story. It is also no coincidence that Clemens sets the story thirty years in his past—just about the same time that he was a boy growing up in Hannibal.

Clemens was born two months prematurely, and was weak as a boy and needed constant care from his mother. Clemens apparently reacted to this in a rebellious way and tended to be a little bit of a trouble-maker. We can see this in Tom, whose every action in the story is curious and naughty—like his escape as a pirate to the island, his late nights out with Huck, and treasure hunting in the abandoned house. Late in life, Clemens asked his mother about how she used to worry about him, and if she feared that he might die. Her reply was that no, she wasn’t afraid that he wouldn’t live, but that she was “afraid [he] would.” We can see this relationship between Tom and Aunt Polly, who constantly frets over Tom’s mischief in the story.

Due to his father’s death, Clemens left school when he was only twelve years old. The jobs he took on from that early age into adulthood strongly shaped him as a writer. He first was a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a confederate soldier during the civil war, a miner, and a reporter in America’s western territories. All of these jobs forced him to be immersed in nature, particularly his job as a steamboat pilot—which most likely was the reason for his pen name, Mark Twain. “Twain” was a common term used amongst boat crew. Clemens’ past with nature, specifically the rushing water of the Mississippi, and his mastery of understanding its patterns makes a clear impact on they way he includes nature as major characters in Tom Sawyer.

Tom Waking Up

August 29, 2010 § 4 Comments

Twain best demonstrates how Tom perceives nature at the beginning of chapter XIV—the moment where Tom wakes up, disoriented, on the soil of the island he had fled to in order to pursue an adventure of piracy and independence. Because Tom has just woken up, he perceives Nature to be waking up as well. When Tom hears birds chirping and hammering on trees in the distance, he sees the sounds as signs of “Nature shaking of sleep and going to work (84),” rather than actions that most likely continued throughout the night. This implies that from Tom’s point of view, Nature does not resume action until he is conscious. This type of perception suggests that Tom is superior to the rest of Nature—as if he controls when the world sleeps. Twain more clearly shows Tom’s sense of control over natural life when he interacts with the ladybug. After singing a rhyme, the bug flies away and Tom takes the credit “for he knew of old that this insect was credulous about conflagrations(85).” To Tom, the ladybug is simple and predictable, and he has the power to make it fly away with a short superstitious rhyme. He moves on to a tumblebug which he touches “to see it shut its legs against its body(85).” This way that Tom toys with the bug further points out his confidence as a human when interacting with nature. Rather than fearing the bug, or being surprised by its actions, he overpowers it. Tom’s actions in this passage highlight his self-centered view of Nature and his role within it. He sees himself as the central commander with Nature revolving around him and his actions.

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