The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
What’s Up With the Ending?
At the end of the book, Injun Joe is out of the picture. Tom and Huck are hometown heroes. Huck has saved the Widow Douglas's life, and Tom has managed to escape from the caves with Becky. The boys have even managed to strike it rich. And even Becky's dad loves Tom. There are a lot of boyfriends out there who wish they were in Tom's shoes.
Sure, Huck doesn't like wearing normal clothes or going to church or doing things that "normal" people do, but what of it? Tom seems to deal with it just fine. He even talks Huck into living in society. The book ends with Tom and Huck making plans to begin Tom Sawyer's Gang and become robbers that very night. Just like the good old days, right?
Well, sort of. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer definitely ends happily, but it's not as simple as all that. Sure, we find Tom concocting a new scheme, and persuading someone, this time Huck Finn, to come along for the ride. He's talking about becoming a robber in the same way he fantasizes about being Robin Hood, a soldier, a pirate, or an Indian at various points throughout the book. And yet – and this is a big yet – this time he is not persuading Huck to go out on a limb and break the rules, but telling him to follow the rules.
When Huck tells Tom, "I hate them ornery sermons! I can't ketch a fly in there; I can't chaw, I got to wear shoes all Sunday. The wider eats by a bell; she goes to bed by a bell; she gets up by a bell – everything's so awful reglar a body can't stand it," all Tom can say is, "Well, everybody does it that way, Huck" (35.7-8). Some answer, huh? Tom's probably been told the same thing so many times that it's finally gotten stuck in his head. He certainly doesn't like doing the things Huck describes; we've seen him whine about wearing shoes, and we've watched him struggle with the urge to catch a fly during church.
This is, on some level, a good thing. That bad boy, Tom, is finally learning some manners, and he's passing them on to Huck. And he's doing it for Huck's own good. Sleeping in a bed sure beats sleeping in a barrel, after all. Still, it's a little eerie to see Tom take the side of the adults. He's not supposed to be reasonable, he's supposed to be a rascal. Even though he ends the story still dreaming up more exciting adventures there's at least a touch of sadness to the book's end.
This may be the reason that Twain chooses to end the novel when he does. In his conclusion to the book he writes, "When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop – that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can." As it stands, Twain leaves us in an uneasy position. Everything has gone as well as it possibly could; Tom is learning to be a member of society, but he hasn't given up all of his old ways, and yet, it seems, he has given up some of them. Although Twain does not make The Adventures of Tom Sawyer into a coming-of-age novel, he lets us know Tom will change. We just can't be sure how he will change.