Reading Notes on “The Adventure of Tom Sawyer”
An Overall Review
Tom Sawyer is a kid living in a small town, under the caring of his aunt. He was a mischievous troublemaker both at school and at home. Wanting to be pirates, he and his friends ran off to an island and showed up later to their own funeral when the whole town thought they were dead. They had their own superstitions, about life, death, and treasures. While pursuing their ceremony of burying a dead cat, they accidentally witnessed a murder and overheard the murderer’s plan of blaming it on to a drunk old man. Haunted since, Tom eventually grew the courage to testify against the murderer, who fled the court and disappeared. Later, he and Huck accidentally witness the murderer - now with a different appearance - talking about treasures, so they followed him. While all the thrills and fears happened, Tom managed to won back Becky’s heart at school when he took her punishment. The lovers ran off during an event and were lost in a cave, again seeing the murderer who was with his treasure. When Tom and Becky were back, the town sealed the cave, unknowing that the murderer was still in there, who died in hunger and despair. Tom and Huck dug up the treasures and became two rich children.
The story of Tom Sawyer is alien to me. I have never experienced a similar childhood, as I was never the mischievous type and neither were my friends. Growing up without having a single fight or making a single prank to my teachers, the energetic trouble making couldn’t be farther from my own experiences. Being a Chinese living in an inland city, pirate life was alien even to my imagination. Tom was bold, while I was frankly quite timid.
Yet the story moved me. In a way, I dreamed to do things similarly. My imagination had brought me to islands, mountains, oceans, etc. I wanted to become, though not a pirate, a swordsman of some sort, who travelled around the world. When I read the book, I saw children fulfilling absurd ideals. I saw teenagers frightened by their own imagination and overcame it. I saw while taking up responsibilities, Tom and his friends still fought back the grown-up world in their own way. In a nutshell, this is a story of victory of childhood.
The book was a breeze to read. Mark Twain’s language was simple yet effective. By stitching together short actions, he showed scenes almost like a movie would. Especially for thrilling scenes - witnessing the murder for example, the short sentences followed one by one, creating the sensation of things happening in a very fast pace.
There were no pretentious vocabularies (in fact he devoted a whole chapter criticizing the school event of writing pretentious words) or complex sentence structures. He chose the right verbs to succinctly describe people’s behavior; he sometimes threw witty insights of the characters’ minds; he used plenty of conversations which served several purposes: describing the subject, reflecting the personality and mindset of the talker, and promoting the interaction between characters.
Quotes I Liked
She seldom or never looked THROUGH them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for “style,” not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well.
This sentence is a good example of building up a lively, vivid image without using complicated structure or vocabularies.
He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom’s vitals.
“Ate into Tom’s vitals” Very vivid yet simple description of Tom’s discomfort meeting a new boy in town.
Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth - stepped back to note the effect - added a touch here and there…
The fluent language could just roll out of my tongue. “Swept” “stepped”, “back and forth” then “here and there”… The verbal structures gave the sentence a great eloquence.
He described Tom’s movement in three semi-sentences, easily bringing to life the boy’s young energetic manner and the deliberate seriousness about this job.
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. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.
This picture brought such an agony of pleasurable suffering that he worked it over and over again in his mind and set it up in new and varied lights, till he wore it threadbare.
Tom was suffering in reality, now, so handsomely was his imagination working, and so his groans had gathered quite a genuine tone.
But the elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time.
Tom flung off his jacket and trousers, turned a suspender into a belt, raked away some brush behind the rotten log, disclosing a rude bow and arrow, a lath sword and a tin trumpet, and in a moment had seized these things and bounded away, barelegged, with fluttering shirt.
Although the sentence is rather long, it is readable and easily comprehended. The author used a sequence of semi-sentences to describe consecutive actions, occasionally blending in a shift of camera to the effects of the actions. The shortness of each semi-sentence ensures that the cognitive burden is low; each action is directly following the previous one, so there is no need to keep track of the overall structure; the occasional clauses tightly relate to the preceding sentence, so they don’t interrupt the flow.
The hooting of a distant owl was all the sound that troubled the dead stillness. Tom’s reflections grew oppressive. He must force some talk.
That was Tom’s great secret - the scheme to return home with his brother pirates and attend their own funerals.
A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of “fine language”; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out; and a peculiarity that conspicuously marked and marred them was the inveterate and intolerable sermon that wagged its crippled tail at the end of each and every one of them.
When they reached the haunted house there was something so weird and grisly about the dead silence that reigned there under the baking sun, and something so depressing about the loneliness and desolation of the place, that they were afraid, for a moment, to venture in.
Twain, M. (2014). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.