Children: Naive enough to do the impossible

September 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer often acts as a bridge between disparaging groups. One example is how Tom Sawyer acts as the bridge that brings the outcast Huckleberry Fin back into the fold of society. Throughout history, children have inadvertently acted as bridges that brought divergent groups together. Many people now recognize how powerful it can be to have the the children of countries locked in vicious way meet and find out that the sons and daughters of their parents fiercest enemies are kids just like themselves. There are a number of worldwide programs that use this as their rational.

Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes, the power of children can be the result of pure chance. Take for instance this example that is in a blog post (read #4, it is the one I am talking about).  The section I am referencing talks about relations between the US and the USSR during the cold war. At a time when schoolchildren were practicing hiding under their desks in case of an atomic bomb drop, a 10-year-old girl wrote to the head Soviet Yuri, which would have appeared to people living then as akin to writing a letter to Voldemort (yeah, HP not written yet but whatever). And he responded. One thing led to another, and little 10 year old Samantha was coming back from a 2 week stay in the heart of the “evil empire” telling the whole of America that Soviets were people just like us. It is through the actions of children too naive to know that reconciliation is impossible that healing can occur.

Yet children themselves face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Many people view childhood the same way the view the Old West, as a land of limitless possibilities and discovery, of happiness and a carefree life. Childhood is a frontier of the mind. It can not be seen while passing through it, but once you leave you can never go back. It really is the eternal frontier, demonstrated by the concept of Never-Never land in Peter Pan. Peter Pan is the embodiment of the undying childhood. Each new generation must find their way through it. People tend to romanticize childhood the way they did the Old West, but it is not nearly as easy as it is made out to be. The path of growing up is every bit as long and arduous a trek as the wagon trains were, except it lasts for many years. Parenting is the intersection of Adulthood and Childhood. Parents can look down from above and see all of the pit holes and mountains that have to be traversed, and all of the lessons that have to be learned. But they can not do more than give guidance, because each of those hurdles is something that the child must overcome themselves if they are every to become an adult.

P.S. I feel like the frontier part does not sync well with the rest. A separate post would probably be a better place for the discussion on it.

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A Window Into Memory?

August 31, 2010 § 2 Comments

The life described in Samuel Clemen’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer draws on more than pure imagination for its creation. Samuel Clemen, also know as Mark Twain, had a childhood that echoed many characteristics of Tom Sawyer’s.

Twain’s childhood was also spent along the Mississippi River, though it was not quite as care-free as Tom’s. Many of the characters from Tom Sawyer appear to have been drawn from Twain’s real-life acquaintances.  For example, Tom Sawyer’s aunt’s faith in herbal remedies echoes that of Twain’s own mother’s experiments on her sickly young boy. Furthermore, the time frame in which Tom Sawyer occurred was roughly the same as Mark Twain’s own childhood. Mark Twain spent much of his young life in the town Hannibal alongside the Mississipi River, similar to Tom Sawyer’s town. Also, the many superstitions that riddle Tom Sawyer’s experiences were also  prevalent throughout Mark Twain’s childhood. They also shared the same mischievous nature that defines most of Tom Sawyer’s adventures.

While in later life Samuel Clemens went on to become a widely successful writer under the name Mark Twain, he never forgot his time by the river. Indeed, Mark Twain is a term taken from his days of piloting river craft. I whole-heartedly concur with the conclusion drawn in Madeline’s post, that Mark Twain’s experiences with nature  and the Mississippi River had a huge impact on his later life and literature.

It’s All Harmless Fun, Right?

August 29, 2010 § 5 Comments

Passage:  bottom of page 53 to top of page 55

In my opinion, in many of the interactions throughout Tom Sawyer nature is subservient to man. Take for example the start of chapter VII, in particular the portion on pages 53 through 55. In this excerpt Tom Sawyer uses a tick to assuage his boredom during class. Tom, finding himself unable to concentrate, gives up on it entirely when he remember that he has a tick stuff in his pocket. He is thankful for the distraction, and thinks of the tick only in terms of how it can profit him. While this line of thought might not be unsurprising for something like a tick, the same thought process is applied to many other animals and aspects of nature throughout the books. When he released the tick, it “glowed with gratitude” (pg 53) for its freeddom, but “it was premature” (53) because Tom proceed to guide and prod him with a pin. The tick is utterly at his mercy, used as a source of entertainment. Tom “exercises” the tick, forcing it to run to and fro. The choice of the word exercise in context shows how utterly Tom is in control of the tick. He is like a God to the tick, but not even a malicious one. He just merely views the tick as a lesser creature that is there for his amusement. He doesn’t even recognize what he is doing is tormenting the tick, he just does it because he is bored. His friend Joe Harper joins in and they make a game of running the tick ragged as it tries to escape them. They boys don’t even recognize the irony of what they are doing. Here they sit, angry over how they are trapped and forced to work when they want to be free. And what are they doing to pass the time? “Exercising the prisoner” (54).

This “harmless” fun reveals the way Tom and his compatriots view nature. From irreverent use of dead cats to beetles and other insects stored in pockets, Tom Sawyer merely sees nature as another toy to play with. The power rests with the people during the human-nature interactions of Tom Sawyer, and while the characters seem to have an appreciation for nature and what it gives them, there is never any doubt who is on top in the end.

Edit: Changed some stuff, added the irony part.

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