Study Guide

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

By Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Introduction

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written by Mark Twain in 1876, is about twelve-year-old Tom Sawyer living the small-town life – and getting into a lot of trouble with his friends – in antebellum (pre-Civil War) Missouri. The book, loosely based on Twain's childhood exploits, has become a classic portrait of mischievous youth – well, in America anyway. As is the case with many now-classic books, Tom Sawyer was not well-acclaimed upon its initial release; and even now Twain's thicker, weightier sequel-of-sorts, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which borrows its setting and characters from Tom Sawyer, is considered his masterpiece.

Still, Huck himself would be the first to tell you what a great book Tom Sawyer is. Huck Finn opens The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by making a plug for Tom Sawyer:

"YOU don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing." (Huckleberry Finn 1.1)

Twain attempted to write a bunch of Tom Sawyer adventures, including Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1894), along with the unfinished Huck and Tom Among the Indians, Schoolhouse Hill, and Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy. There have been tons of film adaptations, TV specials, and spin-offs. And the Canadian progressive-rock band Rush has a song called "Tom Sawyer." (An excerpt: "Though his mind is not for rent / don't put him down as arrogant. / His reserve, a quiet defense, / Riding out the days events.")

Sure, a lot of the particulars of Tom's life – whitewashing, marble-playing, spelunking – may not be familiar to the average American anymore, but there's something about Tom, something about his spirit and the way Mark Twain renders it in prose, that's remained relevant for all these years. Heck, you don't see rock bands writing about The Portrait of a Lady, now do you?

What is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer About and Why Should I Care?

In 1995 a film called Tom and Huck was released, starring teen heartthrobs Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Brad Renfro. This movie, based on Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer, had an advertising slogan that ran:

A lot of kids get into trouble.
These two invented it.

Tom and Huck

The Original Bad Boys

Pretty good, huh? Tom and his buddies get up to some pretty sweet hijinks; heck, they even get to attend their own funerals. Tom and his pals are basically like other modern pranksters – think Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers – they're a ton of fun.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Resources

Websites

The Official Website of Mark Twain
Complete with photos, quotes, a bibliography, and links to other sites.

Walt Disney World's Tom Sawyer Island
A brief overview of the Disney attraction.

Mark Twain Cave
The website to for the Mark Twain Cave and Campground. Here you can check out pictures of the cave in Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. Tom Sawyer's cave is based off of this one.

Movie or TV Productions

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1938
An old film adaptation of Twain's novel. This was the fourth film based on the novel, but the first one in color.

Tom Sawyer, 1973
This musical includes a young Jodie Foster as Becky.

Tom and Huck, 1995
Starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Tom and Brad Renfro as Huck.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003
In which Tom is a member of the American Secret Service. (Don't look for him in the comic book, though. He was added in order to appeal to American audiences.)

Documents

Full Text
Project Gutenberg offer the full text of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for free online. This e-text edition even includes illustrations.

Does Spunk-Water Cure Warts?
Here's a TIME magazine article on psychoanalysis and cures for warts. It references Tom and Huck's spunk-water and dead cat cure.

Video

Rush Plays "Tom Sawyer"
Watch them rocking out.

1938 Film
Watch the full 1938 film on YouTube.

Images

Mark Twain in Nikolai Tesla's Lab
Apparently Twain was something of an inventor on the side. Here he is with the Serbian-American genius Nikolai Tesla.