The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Theme of Race
Issues of race in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer center on the novel's half-Native American villain, Injun Joe. Injun Joe is subject to the usual stereotypes about Native Americans – but, and here's the important part – often times he's the one promoting the stereotypes. The book is set in the mid-1800s in Missouri, a slave state, so slavery does factor into the story. Because the protagonists of the novel are only children, we see how conventional views of race affect them at an age before prejudice really has a chance to set in.
Questions About Race
- How does Injun Joe's race, the fact that he is part Native American, affect the story as a whole? How would it change if he were white?
- How does Injun Joe think about his racial identity? Why does he embrace some really offensive stereotypes about Native Americans?
- Twain went on to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel which deals directly with the issues of race and slavery. Can we see the roots of that approach in Tom Sawyer?
Chew on This
By casting Injun Joe as the villain in Tom Sawyer, Twain ensures that issues of race are not merely in the background, so to speak, but center stage.
Reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, we come to understand how racial stereotypes are perpetuated, espoused, and, in the case of Injun Joe, embraced.