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Growing into a Man
on 13 May 2004
Tom Sawyer is the first great coming of age American novel. In addition, Tom Sawyer is one of the most endearing characters in American fiction. This wonderful book deals with all the challenges that any young person faces, and resolves them in exciting and unusual ways.
Like many young people, Tom would rather be having fun than going to school and church. This desire to enjoy life is always getting him into trouble, from which he finds unusual and imaginative solutions. One of the great scenes in this book has Tom persuading his friends to help him whitewash a fence by making them think that nothing could be finer than doing his punishment for playing hooky from school. When I first read this story, it opened up my mind to the potential power of persuasion.
Tom also is given up for dead and has the unusual experience of watching his own funeral and hearing what people really thought of him. That's something we all should be able to do. By imagining what people will say at our funeral, we can help establish the purpose of our own lives. Mark Twain has given us a powerful tool for self-examination in this wonderful sequence.
Tom and Huck Finn also witness a murder, and have to decide how to handle the fact that they were not supposed to be there and their fear of retribution from the murderer, Injun Joe.
Girls are a part of Tom's life, and Becky Thatcher and he have a remarkable adventure in a cave with Injun Joe. Any young person will remember the excitement of being near someone they cared about alone in this vignette.
Tom stands for the freedom that the American frontier offered to everyone. His aunt Polly represents the civilizing influence of adults and towns. Twain sets up a rewarding novel that makes us rethink the advantages of both freedom and civilization. In this day of the Internet frontier, this story can still provide valuable lessons about listening to our inner selves and acting on what they have to say. Enjoy looking for fun in new ways!