Show Notes: Tom Loves Becky

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No book captures the American spirit better than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Mark Twain’s satire depicts the strengths and weaknesses of the 1800s, something we need to learn from.

Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

We have all, at one or another, been loved by A Tom or pursued a Becky,  Mark Twain depicts the courtship of Tom and Becky in such a way that easily conjours our own memories of showing off to woo the attention of a sweet girl, or how we would ignore someone to make the jealous.  Tom Sawyer, adventurous boy matures as he takes whippings for Becky, and in the end of the tale, saves her from Injun Joe.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a tale of growing up, and of the absurdity of adulthood.  After all, Mark Twain was a satirist first.  Have you noticed how absent the free use of satire is in today’s society?

Painting the fence, or convincing your friends that it’s a privilege to do that task, you pay Tom for the chance.  But sometimes Tom’s plans didn’t work out in school

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain

The best way to describe Twain is to know his quotes:

Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, never regret anything that made you smile.

Either leave them laughing or wondering what the hell you meant.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure. You can “already know for sure” things that could actually impede progress. Always be on the the lookout for the things you did not know. Secondly, work on strengthening personal belief that a particular will be achieved regardless of any adversity that may show up, or evidence to the contrary.

Name the greatest of all inventors.   Accident.

The girl “put him to rights” after he had dressed himself; she buttoned his neat roundabout up to his chin, turned his vast shirt collar down over his shoulders, brushed him off and crowned him with his speckled straw hat. He now looked exceedingly improved and uncomfortable. He was fully as uncomfortable as he looked; for there was a restraint about whole clothes and cleanliness that galled him.

They felt no longing for the little village sleeping in the distance beyond the majestic waste of water. A vagrant current of a slight rise in the river had carried off their raft, but this only gratified them, since its going was something like burning the bridge between them and civilization . . . They came back to camp wonderfully refreshed, glad-hearted, and ravenous[.]

Mark Twain – Samuel Clemens – was born n 1835 and raised in Florida, Missouri and raised in Hannibal to a father of means who was a slave owner.  His father died early, and Twain had to leave school to find work.  After working as a typesetter he became a riverboat pilot until 1861 when he enlisted to fight for the Confederates in the American Civil War.  When his regiment deserted, he left for Nevada to work as a silver miner.  Twain’s talent was developed through his engagement with life, and this gave rise to his irreverent streak and his strong sense of satire.  Twain poked fun at people, and his humor revealed insights that many would refuse to utter themselves.

Yet Twain was no Luddite, he was friends with both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla and the technological changes that swept the latter half of the 19th century fascinated him immensely.   His innate curiosity in evolution, geology and technology was clear:  he claimed to have the first private telephone and was an early adopter of the typewriter.

No His Mind Is Not For Rent

Tom Sawyer is the embodiment of imagination, sense of adventure, individualism, non conformity and love of friends.   Truly Tom’s recklessness provides the opportunities for him to grow.   Through out the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom will rebel against what is required, and his imagination will drive him to leave the confines of St Petersburg, his small village on the Mississippi.  Tom getting to trouble with Aunt Polly and his punishment of painting the white fence becomes an opportunity for Tom, as he convinces his friends that painting the fence is worth paying, and soon Tom trades the brush for items he finds valuable.  A true entrepreneur and out of the box thinker.  This twist of imagination and ingenuity is something that Americans became known for.

But as the book progresses and Tom’s antics offer more plights and jams that require his quick thinking, we see Tom grow.  Tom’s love is Becky Thatcher, and despite having been “engaged” to Amy Lawrence previously, Tom manages to get in trouble so that the teacher will sit an ruckus boy next a girl – Tom’s planning fools adults, which says something about Twain’s views on the silly nature of adults.  Self important, adults are fooled that their rules and conformity are a superior method for education and societal cohesiveness.  

Tom’s closest friend is Huck Finn, who is regarded as an outcast by the adults of St Petersburg.  For Tom, Huck represents true freedom.  Huck doesn’t attend school, he lives off the land and his father, a drunk, has very contact with his son.  For Huck, Tom’s imagination and ability to spin tales and motivate other boys to pursue mischief and adventure.  Tom is very faithful – he is willing to take beatings from his school teacher because of his association with Huck.  Tom is loyal, yet Tom’s judgement is that of a young boy, and this leads to consequences.

One evening Tom and Huck sneak out to cemetery to perform a superstitious ritual.  Twain demonstrates Tom and Huck’s beliefs remain fervent, despite evidence to the contrary, and this becomes yet another theme of the book.

While at the cemetery, Huck and Tom witness Dr Robinson, Mudd Potter and Injun Joe rob a grave – during this period in America grave robbing was prominent as doctors required corpses to study anatomy.  A dispute breaks out, and Injun Joe stabs Dr Robinson, killing him.  Tom’s adventure has just been preempted with a stark, harsh reality.  This factors into Tom’s character development for the remainder of the book.

After the Graveyard murder is discovered, Tom falls sick, his conscience bothering him due to his promise to not tell that he and Huck were out at right and from the trauma of what he witnessed.  With his posse of Huck Finn and Joe Harper, Tom decides that they will become pirates, and seeking treasure they build a raft and make their way to an island in the Mississippi river.  Despite their raft floating away down river, for several days they stay, catching fish and cooking turtle eggs, but as they remain, Joe and Huck become homesick.   Tom decides to return at night, and sneaks into his house to eavesdrop on his Aunt Polly, to his surprise he hears Aunt Polly lament that she should have been kinder to Tom while he was alive – Aunt Polly and the rest of St Petersburg all believe that the boys had drowned when their raft was spotted floating down river.

Tom thinks this is an opportunity to return as heroes, and he convinces Huck and Joe to sneak into their own funeral.

Tom Sawyer is study of American life, and is a satire of the level of self importance that people can rise to with rituals, religion and societal mores.  Twain contrasts Tom’s struggle to remain true to his adventurous nature while remaining true to his heart.  Tom’s conscience matures as he realizes he must testify against Injun Joe, risking his friendship with Huck, but Tom realizes that an innocent man will be punished for the Injun Joe’s crime.  Tom runs away with Becky, and endangers her as they get caught in a cave with Injun Joe, and Tom takes on the mantel of protector as he comforts Becky while he tries to figure out how to leave the cave while evading detection by Injun Joe.

Contrast the statements from Twain listed about regarding accident, adventure, discovery with the consequences of recklessness.  Freedom is the right to decide but it is also the obligation to know consequences, that is the maturity that Tom slowly acquires.  But his spirit, while some that needs to be tempered, is a facet that needs to be rediscovered by our youth.  And quite frankly, by most adults.  It’s easier to temper to than to inspire where no spark exists.   The 20th century is know as the Century of the Self, and the 21st Century is shaping up to be the Century of the Group.  Mark Twain’s era represents the Century of Cultural Courage, of wit.  As Neil Peart of Rush wrote in the lyrics Tom Sawyer:

And what you say about his companyIs what you say about societyCatch the witness, catch the witCatch the spirit, catch the spit


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