1876 illustration by True Williams
|Created by||Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)|
|Family||Aunt Polly (aunt), Sally Phelps (aunt), Mary (cousin), Sid (half-brother)|
Thomas "Tom" Sawyer is the title character of the Mark Twain novel Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). He appears in three other novels by Twain: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896).
Sawyer also appears in at least three unfinished Twain works, Huck and Tom Among the Indians, Schoolhouse Hill, and Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy. While all three uncompleted works were posthumously published, only Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy has a complete plot, as Twain abandoned the other two works after finishing only a few chapters.
The fictional character's name may have been derived from a jolly and flamboyant fireman named Tom Sawyer whom Twain was acquainted with in San Francisco, California, while Twain was employed as a reporter at the San Francisco Call. Twain used to listen to Sawyer tell stories of his youth, "Sam, he would listen to these pranks of mine with great interest and he'd occasionally take 'em down in his notebook. One day he says to me: ‘I am going to put you between the covers of a book some of these days, Tom.’ ‘Go ahead, Sam,’ I said, ‘but don’t disgrace my name.’" Twain himself said the character sprang from three people, later identified as: John B. Briggs (who died in 1907), William Bowen (who died in 1893) and Twain; however Twain later changed his story saying Sawyer was fully formed solely from his imagination, but as Robert Graysmith says, "The great appropriator liked to pretend his characters sprang fully grown from his fertile mind."
Tom Sawyer's best friends include Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's infatuation with classmate Becky Thatcher is apparent as he tries to intrigue her with his strength, boldness, and handsome looks. He lives with his half-brother Sid, his cousin Mary, and his stern Aunt Polly in the (fictional) town of St. Petersburg, Missouri. There is no mention of Tom's father. Tom has another aunt, Sally Phelps, who lives considerably farther down the Mississippi River, in the town of Pikesville. Tom is the son of Aunt Polly's dead sister.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom is only a minor character and is used as a foil for Huck, particularly in the later chapters of the novel after Huck makes his way to Uncle Phelps' plantation. Tom's immaturity, imagination, and obsession with stories put Huck's planned rescue of the runaway slave Jim in great jeopardy--and ultimately make it unnecessary, since he knows Jim's owner has died and freed him in her will. Throughout the novel, Huck's intellectual and emotional development is a central theme, and by re-introducing a character from the beginning (Tom), Twain is able to highlight this evolution in Huck's character.