The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Front piece of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876, 1st edition
AuthorMark Twain
CountryUnited States
GenreBildungsroman, picaresque novel, satire, folk, children's literature
PublisherAmerican Publishing Company
Publication date
LC ClassPZ7.T88 Ad 2001
Followed byAdventures of Huckleberry Finn 
TextThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer at Wikisource

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (also simply known as Tom Sawyer) is an 1876 novel by Mark Twain about a boy, Tom Sawyer, growing up along the Mississippi River. It is set in the 1840s in the town of St. Petersburg, which is based on Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived as a boy.[2] In the novel, Sawyer has several adventures, often with his friend Huckleberry Finn. Originally a commercial failure, the book ended up being the best-selling of Twain's works during his lifetime.[3][4] Though overshadowed by its 1884 sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the book is considered by many to be a masterpiece of American literature.[5] It is alleged by Mark Twain to be one of the first novels to be written on a typewriter.[6]


Tom Sawyer, 1972 US commemorative stamp showing the whitewashed fence
Tom and Becky lost in the caves. Illustration from the 1876 edition by artist True Williams.

Orphan Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid in the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, sometime in the 1840s. He frequently skips school to play or go swimming. When Polly catches him sneaking home late on a Friday evening and discovers that he has been in a fight, she makes him whitewash her fence the next day as punishment.

Tom persuades several neighborhood children to trade him small trinkets and treasures for the "privilege" of doing his work, using reverse psychology to convince them of its enjoyable nature. Later, Tom trades the trinkets with students in his Sunday school class for tickets, given out for memorizing verses of Scripture. He collects enough tickets to earn a prized Bible from the teacher, despite being one of the worst students in the class and knowing almost nothing of Scripture, eliciting envy from the students and a mixture of pride and shock from the adults.

Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a girl who is new in town. Tom wins the admiration of her father, the prominent Judge Thatcher, in the church by obtaining the Bible as a prize, but reveals his ignorance when he cannot answer basic questions about Scripture. Tom pursues Becky, eventually persuading her to get "engaged" by kissing her. Their romance soon collapses when she discovers that Tom was "engaged" to another schoolgirl, Amy Lawrence.

Becky spurns Tom, who accompanies Huckleberry Finn, a vagrant boy whom all the other boys admire, to a graveyard at midnight to perform a ritual intended to heal warts. At the graveyard, they witness three body snatchers, Dr. Robinson, Muff Potter and Injun Joe, robbing a grave. A fight breaks out, during which Robinson knocks Potter unconscious and is then murdered by Injun Joe. When Potter wakes up, Injun Joe puts the weapon in his hand and tells him that he killed Robinson while drunk. Tom and Huck swear a blood oath not to tell anyone about the murder, fearing that Injun Joe will find out and kill them for revenge. Potter is arrested and jailed to await trial, not disputing Injun Joe's claim.

Tom grows bored with school, and he, his friend/classmate Joe Harper, and Huck run away to Jackson's Island in the Mississippi River to begin life as "pirates". While enjoying their freedom, they notice the community is scouring the river for their bodies, as the boys are missing and presumed dead. Tom sneaks back home one night to observe the commotion and, after a moment of remorse at his loved ones' suffering, conceives a plan to attend his own funeral. The three carry out this scheme, appearing at church in the middle of their joint funeral service and winning the respect of their classmates for the stunt. Back in school, Becky rips a page in the school master's anatomy book after Tom startles her, but Tom regains her admiration by claiming responsibility for the damage and accepting the punishment that would have been hers.

During Potter's murder trial, Tom breaks his oath with Huck and testifies for the defense, identifying Injun Joe as the actual culprit. Injun Joe flees the courtroom before he can be apprehended; Potter is acquitted, but Tom and Huck now live in fear for their lives.

Once school lets out for the summer, Tom and Huck decide to hunt for buried treasure in the area. While investigating an abandoned house, they are interrupted by the arrival of two men; one of them is a Spaniard, supposedly deaf-mute, who is actually Injun Joe in disguise. He and his partner plan to bury some stolen treasure in the house, but inadvertently discover a hoard of gold coins while doing so. They decide to move it to a new hiding place, which Tom and Huck are determined to find. One night, Huck follows the men, who plan to break into the home of the wealthy Widow Douglas so Injun Joe can mutilate her face in revenge for being publicly whipped for vagrancy − a punishment handed down by her late husband, a justice of the peace. Huck summons help and prevents the break-in, but asks that his name not be made public for fear of retaliation by Injun Joe.

Shortly before Huck stops the crime, Tom goes on a picnic to a local cave with Becky and their classmates. Tom and Becky become lost and wander in the cave for days, facing starvation and dehydration. Becky becomes dehydrated and weak, and Tom's search for a way out grows more desperate. He encounters Injun Joe by chance, but is not seen. He eventually finds an exit, and he and Becky are joyfully welcomed back to town, learning that they have been missing for three days and traveled five miles from the entrance. Judge Thatcher has the cave's entrance door reinforced and locked. When Tom hears of this action two weeks later, he is horror-stricken, knowing that Injun Joe is still inside. He directs a posse to the cave, where they find Injun Joe dead of starvation just inside the entrance.

A week later, having deduced from Injun Joe's presence that the stolen gold must be hidden in the cave, Tom takes Huck there in search of it. They find the gold, which totals over $12,000 (equivalent to $392,000 in 2023) and is invested on their behalf. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, who finds the restrictions of a civilized home life painful, attempting to escape back to his vagrant life. He reluctantly returns to the widow, persuaded by Tom's offer to form a high-class robber gang.


The novel has elements of humor, satire and social criticism – features that later made Mark Twain one of the most important authors of American literature. Mark Twain describes some autobiographical events in the book. The novel's setting of St. Petersburg is based on Twain's actual boyhood home of Hannibal, near St. Louis, and many of the places in it are real and today support a tourist industry as a result.[7]

The concept of boyhood is developed through Tom's actions, including his runaway adventure with Joe and Huckleberry. To help show how mischievous and messy boyhood was, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs shows a picture of a young boy smoking a pipe, sawing furniture, climbing all over the place, and sleeping. In Twain's novel, Tom and his friend are young when they decide they want to learn how to smoke a pipe. Tom and Joe do this to show just how cool they are to the other boys.[8]


Tom Sawyer was Twain's first attempt to write a novel. He had previously written contemporary autobiographical narratives (The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress, Roughing It) and two short texts called sketches which parody the youth literature of the time. These are The Story of the Good Boy and The Story of the Wicked Little Boy which are satirical texts of a few pages. In the first, a model child is never rewarded and ends up dying before he can declaim his last words which he has carefully prepared. In the second story, an evil little boy steals and lies, like Tom Sawyer, but finishes rich and successful. Tom appears as a mixture of these little boys since he is at the same time a scamp and a boy endowed with a certain generosity.

By the time he wrote Tom Sawyer, Twain was already a successful author based on the popularity of The Innocents Abroad. He owned a large house in Hartford, Connecticut, but needed another success to support himself, with a wife and two daughters. He had collaborated on a novel with Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age, published in 1874.[9]

He had earlier written an unpublished memoir of his own life on the Mississippi and had corresponded with a boyhood friend, Will Bowen, both of which had evoked many memories and were used as source material.

Twain named his fictional character after a San Francisco fireman whom he met in June 1863. The real Tom Sawyer was a local hero, famous for rescuing 90 passengers after a shipwreck. The two remained friendly during Twain's three-year stay in San Francisco, often drinking and gambling together.[10]


Frontispiece and title page of the first American edition

In November 1875, Twain gave the manuscript to Elisha Bliss of the American Publishing Company, who sent it to True Williams for the illustrations. A little later, Twain had the text also quickly published at Chatto and Windus of London, in June 1876, but without illustration. Pirate editions appeared very quickly in Canada and Germany. The American Publishing Company finally published its edition in December 1876, which was the first illustrated edition of Tom Sawyer.[11]

These two editions differ slightly. After completing his manuscript, Twain had a copy made of it. It is this copy which was read and annotated by his friend William Dean Howells. Howells and Twain corresponded through fairly informal, handwritten letters discussing many aspects of his works and manuscripts; language choices, character development, as well as racial development and depiction. Twain then made his own corrections based on Howells' comments which he later incorporated in the original manuscript, but some corrections escaped him. The English edition was based on this corrected copy, while the illustrated American edition was based on the original manuscript. To further complicate matters, Twain was personally concerned with the revision of the proofs of the American edition, which he did not do for the English edition. The American edition is therefore considered the authoritative edition.


A third person narrator describes the experiences of the boys, interspersed with occasional social commentary. In its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain changes to a first person narrative which takes moral conflicts more personally and thus makes greater social criticism possible.[12] The two other subsequent books, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective, are similarly in the first person narrative from the perspective of Huckleberry Finn.

The book has raised controversy for its use of the racial epithet "nigger"; a bowdlerized version aroused indignation among some literary critics.[13]

The book has been criticized for its caricature-like portrayal of Native Americans through the character Injun Joe. He is depicted as malevolent for the sake of malevolence, is not allowed to redeem himself in any way by Twain, dies a pitiful and despairing death in a cave and upon his death is treated as a tourist attraction. Revard suggests that the adults in the novel blame the character's Indian blood as the cause of his evil.[14]

Sequels and other works featuring Tom Sawyer[edit]

Tom Sawyer, the story's title character, also appears in two other uncompleted sequels: Huck and Tom Among the Indians and Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy. He is also a character in Twain's unfinished Schoolhouse Hill.

Adaptations and influences[edit]

Film and television[edit]


  • "Tom Sawyer" is a song by Canadian rock band Rush, originally released on their 1981 album Moving Pictures as its opener.


  • From 1932 to 1933, German philosopher Theodor Adorno adapted The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a ballad opera titled Der Schatz des Indianer-Joe (Treasure of Joe, the Indian). He never finished the musical accompaniment. The libretto was published by his wife Gretel Adorno and student Rolf Tiedemann in 1979.[31]
  • In 1956, We're From Missouri, a musical adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with book, music, and lyrics by Tom Boyd, was presented by the students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
  • In 1960, Tom Boyd's musical version (re-titled Tom Sawyer) was presented professionally at Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, England, and in 1961 toured provincial theatres in England.[32][33]
  • In 1981, the play The Boys in Autumn by the American dramatist Bernhard Sabath premiered in San Francisco. In the play, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn meet again as old men. Despite good reviews, the play has remained largely unknown.[34]
  • In the 1985 musical Big River by William Hauptman and Roger Miller, Tom is a secondary character, played by John Short from 1985 to 1987.
  • In 2001, the musical The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Ken Ludwig and Don Schlitz, debuted on Broadway.[35]
  • In 2015, the Mark Twain House and Museum selected 17-year-old Noah Altshuler (writer of Making the Move), as Mark Twain Playwright in Residence, to create a modern, meta-fictional adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for regional and commercial production.[36]


Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in Three Acts premiered on October 14, 2011, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. The score was by composer Maury Yeston, with choreography by William Whitener, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet.[37][38] A review in The New York Times observed: "It’s quite likely that this is the first all-new, entirely American three-act ballet: it is based on an American literary classic, has an original score by an American composer and was given its premiere by an American choreographer and company. ... Both the score and the choreography are energetic, robust, warm, deliberately naïve (both ornery and innocent), in ways right for Twain."[39]

Comic books[edit]

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has been adapted into comic book form many times:

Video games[edit]


On November 30, 2011, to celebrate Twain's 176th birthday, the Google Doodle was a scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.[42]

Theme park attractions[edit]

An opening day attraction at Six Flags Over Mid America (Now Six Flags St Louis) was Injun Joe's Cave which told the story of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher as they escaped from Injun Joe after his murdering of Dr. Robinson. The attraction was open until 1978 when it was replaced with "The Time Tunnel." To this day, the building that housed this former attraction is home to "Justice League Battle for Metropolis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Facsimile of the original 1st edition.
  2. ^ "American Literature: Mark Twain". Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  3. ^ Railton, Stephen. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". Mark Twain in His Times. University of Virginia. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  4. ^ Messent, Peter (2007). The Cambridge Introduction to Mark Twain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139462273. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  5. ^ "United States History: Mark Twain". Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  6. ^ Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain, A Biography, 1835-1910, Complete The Personal And Literary Life Of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Retrieved 27 December 2023.
  7. ^ Norkunas, Martha K. (1993). The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History, and Ethnicity in Monterey, California. SUNY Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-0791414842.
  8. ^ "Leedle Yawcob Strauss". THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DIGITAL COLLECTIONS. L. Prang & Co. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  9. ^ Gailey, Amanda (June 2013). "The Gilded Age : A Tale of Today". Encyclopedia of American Literature. ISBN 9781438140773.
  10. ^ Graysmith, Robert (October 2012). "The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on November 7, 2013. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  11. ^ Twain, Mark (1967). Hill, Hamlin Lewis (ed.). Mark Twain's Letters to his Publishers 1867-1894. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520005600. tom sawyer chatto and windus 1876.
  12. ^ Groß-Langenhoff, Barbara (2006). Social Criticism in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. GRIN Verlag. ISBN 978-3638456821.
  13. ^ "Opinion | That's Not Twain". The New York Times. 2011. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-18.
  14. ^ Revard, Carter (1999). "Why Mark Twain Murdered Injun Joe: And Will Never Be Indicted". The Massachusetts Review. 40 (4): 643–670. JSTOR 25091596.
  15. ^ "Tom Sawyer". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07.
  16. ^ "Tom Sawyer (1930)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  17. ^ "Tom Sawyer (1936)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  18. ^ "THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938)". Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  19. ^ "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1960– )". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  20. ^ "Les aventur Sawyer (1968– )". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  21. ^ "The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1968–1969)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  22. ^ "Aventuras de Juliancito (1969)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  23. ^ "Tom Sawyer (1973)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  24. ^ "Tom Sawyer (TV 1973)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  25. ^ "Huckleberry Finn and His Friends (1979– )". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  26. ^ Mark Deming (2009). "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (1981)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 29, 2009. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  27. ^ "Tom and Huck (1995)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  28. ^ "The Animated Adventures of Tom Sawyer". Behind The Voice Actors. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  29. ^ "Tom Sawyer (Video 2000)". IMDB. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  30. ^ "Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn (2014)". IMDB. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  31. ^ Adorno, Theodor (1979). Tiedemann, Rolf (ed.). Schatz des Indianer-Joe (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.
  32. ^ "TOM SAWYER - London production". Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  33. ^ Frankos, Laura (2010-01-01). The Broadway Musical Quiz Book. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 267. ISBN 9781423492757.
  34. ^ Rich, Frank (1986-05-01). "THEATER: 'THE BOYS IN AUTUMN'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-02.
  35. ^ Weber, Bruce (2001-04-27). "THEATER REVIEW; An Older (and Calmer) Tom Sawyer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-02.
  36. ^ Giola, Michael (March 24, 2015). "Could a 17-Year-Old Bring Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" Back to Broadway?". Playbill.
  37. ^ Horsley, Paul. "An American Ballet: KCB Presents World Premiere Of Ambitious New Piece" Archived 2013-01-27 at,, accessed June 23, 2012
  38. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Maury Yeston's Tom Sawyer Ballet Will Get World Premiere in 2011" Archived 2010-11-12 at the Wayback Machine,, November 9, 2012
  39. ^ Macaulay, Alastair. "Yes, Those Are Tom, Becky and Huck Leaping",, October 24, 2011,
  40. ^ Inge, M. Thomas. "Comics", The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. Ed. J. R. LeMaster and James D. Wilson. (New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 168-71.
  41. ^ Manga Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2018) UDON Entertainment ISBN 978-1947808027
  42. ^ "Mark Twain's 176th Birthday",, November 30, 2011

Further reading[edit]

  • Beaver, Harold, et al., eds. "The role of structure in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn." Huckleberry Finn. Vol. 1. No. 8. (Johns Hopkins Textual Studies, 1987) pp. 1–57.
  • Beringer, Alex. "Humbug History: The Politics of Puffery in Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy." Mark Twain Annual 14.1 (2016): 114–126. Online
  • Blair, Walter. "On the Structure of" Tom Sawyer"." Modern Philology 37.1 (1939): 75-88.
  • Bonilla, Joe Montenegro. "The American Past and Present: A New Historicist Approach to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Letras 2.64 (2018): 109-129. online
  • Buchen, Callista. "Writing the Imperial Question at Home: Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians Revisited." Mark Twain Annual 9 (2011): 111–129. online
  • Caron, James E. "The Arc of Mark Twain's Satire, or Tom Sawyer the Moral Snag." American Literary Realism 51.1 (2018): 36–58. Online[dead link]
  • Dadjo, Servais Dieu-Donné Yédia. "Analysing Linguistic Stylistic Devices in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and So Long a Letter: A Comparative Appraisal." International Journal of English Linguistics 12.2 (2022). online
  • Dillingham, William B. "Setting and Theme in Tom Sawyer." Mark Twain Journal 12.2 (1964): 6-8 online.
  • Girsang, Martina, et al. "Exploring the Language Usage in Mark Twain’s Novel “Adventures of Tom Sawyer”: Hegemonic Masculinity Analysis." REiLA: Journal of Research and Innovation in Language 4.2 (2022): 197-208. online
  • Gribben, Alan. "Tom Sawyer, Tom Canty, and Huckleberry Finn: The Boy Book and Mark Twain." Mark Twain Journal 55.1/2 (2017): 127-144 online
  • Hill, Hamlin L. "The Composition and the Structure of Tom Sawyer." American Literature 32.4 (1961): 379-392 online.
  • Kenny, Neil. "of Literature on Beliefs The Example of Injun Joe in Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer." in Reading Beyond the Code: Literature and Relevance Theory (2018): 73+ online.
  • Roberts, James L. CliffsNotes Twain's The adventures of Tom Sawyer (2001) online free to borrow
  • Simpson, Claude Mitchell, ed. Twentieth century interpretations of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: a collection of critical essays (Prentice Hall, 1968).
  • Tibbetts, John C., And James M, Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2005) pp 3–5.
  • Towers, Tom H. "I Never Thought We Might Want to Come Back": Strategies of Transcendence in" Tom Sawyer." Modern Fiction Studies 21.4 (1975): 509-520 online.
  • West, Mark I. "Playing Pirates with Tom Sawyer: The Intersection of Reader-Response Theory and Play Theory." The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children's Literature 20.1 (2017). online

External links[edit]