on February 12, 2011
Open Letter to NewSouth Books
In regards to censoring a Mark Twain classic
January 5, 2010
Dear Randall Williams and Suzanne La Rosa, co-owners of NewSouth Books;
Censorship in any form, however benign in appearance, however easier on the ears and eyes, however sincere in intention ' violates the natural endowment of free expression. Your publication of Mark Twain's classic in censored form will send the wrong signals to the publishing industry, the wrong message to young readers in public schools. Enlightened minds are not nourished by Orwellian safeguards.
On your website you state: 'A new edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, forthcoming from NewSouth Books in mid-February, does more than unite the companion boy books in one volume, as the author had intended.'
Let's examine the last part of your proclamation ' 'as the author had intended.' As a Mark Twain enthusiast, I highly doubt he would have intended for you to take it upon yourselves to censor his work. True, he had intended to publish the two stories in one volume. But this doesn't grant you the moral authority to step in and replace 'the N-word' with 'slave' (including their plural companions). In effect, you're claiming he would have intended for you to sanitize racial slurs on behalf of two ethnic groups so that you could publish his two stories in one volume.
Secondly, making use of Twain scholar, Dr. Alan Gribben, and his 'preemptive censorship' doctrine doesn't excuse yourselves from the fact that you and your publishing company have now embarked on your own rafting adventure down the Mighty Mississippi of Censorship. According to Dr. Gribben's explanation, he can no longer bring himself to utter the N-word (as it is not comfortable for him) during readings of Twain therefor justifying an assuasive form of censorship. As he explains:
'Through a succession of firsthand experiences, this editor [Dr. Alan Gribben] gradually concluded that an epithet-free edition of Twain's books is necessary today. For nearly forty years I have led college classes, bookstore forums, and library reading groups in detailed discussions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in California, Texas, New York, and Alabama, and I always recoiled from uttering the racial slurs spoken by numerous characters, including Tom and Huck. I invariably substituted the word 'slave' for Twain's ubiquitous n-word whenever I read any passages aloud. Students and audience members seemed to prefer this expedient, and I could detect a visible sense of relief each time, as though a nagging problem with the text had been addressed. Indeed, numerous communities currently ban Huckleberry Finn as required reading in public schools owing to its offensive racial language and have quietly moved the title to voluntary reading lists. The American Library Association lists the novel as one of the most frequently challenged books across the nation.'
While sincere and reasonable in his assertions, I would argue that most censorship begins with a sincere and reasonable discourse against language in order to maintain some level of personal comfort. In doing so the door is left wide open for the next book to be censored. And the next. But in NewSouth Book's case, your case ' you're selling two birds in one tome. So I ask you, what's next?
NewSouth Book's other justification for publishing a censored version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn seems redundant at best:
'At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers. If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain's works will be more emphatically fulfilled.'
Are we to believe just because your publishing company is censoring a book that you're adding a new perspective on the issue of censorship or shedding light on the baneful influence of racial slurs? It's plain to see how sparking a good debate could be good PR in emphatically improving your profits, but intellectually speaking, you're bringing nothing new to the table but a censored book. Why should any new discussion about censorship and language caused directly by your publication not be traced back to the source of the commotion in the form of moral outrage? Mr. Williams and Miss La Rosa, you are contributing to the problem, not the solution.
In a time when everything Twain is a hot commodity, I ask that you do the right thing and restore Twain's words verbatim in his works as he originally intended. The profits that you may gain by circumventing the issue of censorship in some communities may only spurn a larger community of literature and Twain fans against you in the form of boycotts and negative press. On the contrary, NewSouth Books could be pioneering strategies in getting formerly banned books like Twain's back into schools. A forward could be penned in defense of free expression and how embracing it ultimately benefits a free society despite the existence of racial slurs lurking inside and outside the cover of a book. To share a nation's literary heritage with as many people that are willing to engage with it, unabridged, uncensored, is all a free society can really hope for.
The Argument from Comfort
'Am I surprised, then, that Dr. Gribben has edited a version of Huck Finn that replaces the n-word with slave? Not really. Nor can I muster much righteous indignation against the idea.'
-Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series
It amazes me how flippant and lazy the justifications have been in the defense of (or the not-so-much- against) the censoring of Mark Twain. I read the above quotation while scanning the news for Twain updates this morning in the author's blog. As it turns out, a few prominent authors are sounding quite a bit alike.
The underpinning logic behind the current censorship debate is comfort ' or lack thereof. It is a doctrine that is firmly rooted in the psyche of many educators, including Dr. Alan Gribben and his former student ' teacher and author, Rick Riordan. The argument itself seems sensible and touches on the problem of censorship and its denunciation. Teaching literary texts with racial slurs can be 'tricky', especially with African Americans. Most will agree with this assertion. Another example might highlight a minority group of whites sitting in a literature class in the Philippines discussing the work of a Filipino author whose protagonist hurls racial insults against American soldiers during the Spanish American War. Most uncomfortable too, understandably. Mr. Riordan reiterates the appeal to comfort in his current blog:
'On the other hand, I have taught Huck Finn in the classroom ' unedited, unabridged. I have taught the book with African American students. It can be done well. It can be a positive experience. But it is a tricky, tricky proposition. I know that it can make students extremely uncomfortable, even with the most careful preparation and conversation. Faced with such a challenge, many educators and curriculum gurus will probably choose the path of least resistance. Rather than teaching Huck Finn in the original, they will simply remove one of the most important texts in American literature from their classrooms. Because of this, I can understand that in some cases, in some classrooms, an edited version of the novel might be a welcome teaching tool, and an appropriate choice.'
And an excerpt from Dr. Gribben's introduction in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn expresses the argument from comfort based on experience in the classroom as well:
'Through a succession of firsthand experiences, this editor [Dr. Gribben] gradually concluded that an epithet-free edition of Twain's books is necessary today. For nearly forty years I have led college classes, bookstore forums, and library reading groups in detailed discussions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in California, Texas, New York, and Alabama, and I always recoiled from uttering the racial slurs spoken by numerous characters, including Tom and Huck. I invariably substituted the word 'slave' for Twain's ubiquitous n-word whenever I read any passages aloud. Students and audience members seemed to prefer this expedient, and I could detect a visible sense of relief each time, as though a nagging problem with the text had been addressed.'
I can almost sense their subconscious disgust at this mediocre and intellectually deprived stance on keeping things comfortable as a justification for censorship. They know the responses that are likely to be slung back at them. 'Then don't teach it at all.' ' 'Perhaps someone better qualified should be teaching it.' ' 'Let the book continued to be banned from most schools until educators, school boards, and parents can themselves come to terms with the material.' ' 'Better to not teach at all than to teach a white-washed history.' ' 'Since when is teaching anything of importance supposed to be comforting?'
Fallacies in play
Those who argue from comfort are well aware of the dilemma they put themselves in. This is why we see them digging themselves deeper into the hole by committing other fallacies of logic by appealing to authority and popularity to try and lend more beef to their position. But these tendencies only weaken their position even further. Dr. Gribben appeals to popularity for 'further proof' for his justification of substituting the N-word was necessary:
'In several towns I was taken aside after my talk by earnest middle and high school teachers who lamented the fact that they no longer felt justified in assigning either of Twain's boy books because of the hurtful n-word. Here was further proof that this single debasing label is overwhelming every other consideration about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, whereas what these novels have to offer readers hardly depends upon that one indefensible slur.'
Mr. Riordan chimes in as well on the popularity slant when it comes to 'easing our minds' and downplaying the act of censorship:
'And let's remember, tinkering with a classic text is hardly a new idea, nor is it usually done with as much delicacy and careful consideration. There are dozens of abridged 'young reader' versions of Huck Finn in print that hack huge portions out of the text and also clean up or dumb down the language. There are numerous graphic novel versions. These are commonly used in classrooms without generating national headlines, and take much greater liberties with Twain's story for worse reasons.'
The appeal to authority is essentially stating that a person presumed to be an authority on a subject claims something to be true. An great example of this fallacy would be taking Sarah Palin as an authority on her pro life abortion stance concerning rape. She once stated that she would personally 'choose life' even if her own daughter were raped. Citing Palin as an authority on this would be erroneous as she has not had this tragic thing happen to her daughter, and if it had happen, it wouldn't have been her 'choice' to make regarding whether or not her daughter decided to keep the child (not if her daughter was of the legal age to make the decision for herself). It's Palin's opinion on that matter. Having a strong opinion on this is perfectly fine but it doesn't lend credibility to her assertion as an authority that abortion is wrong even in the case of rape. For this we'd look to a mother who had endured this sad experience. We'd probably lend more weight to this mother's argument on the issue of abortion regardless of whether she agrees with Palin's own view or not. A proper authority figure has experience and/or credentials.
Doctor Gribben appeals to authority in another way that isn't quite so apparent or committal. On one hand he may be agreeing full heartily (with presumed authorities) that censorship is indeed wrong while simultaneously tipping his hat to those that advocate censorship. To make matters worse, he does so without fully embracing either camp. Again, from Dr. Gribben's introduction:
'Over the years I have noted valiant and judicious defenses of the prevalence of the n-word in Twain's Huckleberry Finn as proposed by eminent writers, editors, and scholars, including those of Michael Patrick Hearn, Nat Hentoff, Randall Kennedy, and Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua. Hearn, for example, correctly notes that 'Huck says it out of habit, not malice' (22). Apologists quite validly encourage readers to intuit the irony behind Huck's ignorance and to focus instead on Twain's larger satiric goals. Nonetheless, Langston Hughes made a forceful, lasting argument for omitting this incendiary word from all literature, from however well-intentioned an author. 'Ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter,' explained Hughes. African Americans, Hughes wrote, 'do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic. . . . They still do not like it' (268'269).'
Have any of these 'eminent writers, editors, and scholars' themselves been the victims of censorship? Have any of them censored another author? While we may take note of their literary credentials and think highly of their opinions and knowledge in their fields, this in and of itself doesn't make them authorities on censorship. What they have done is asserted ' like Palin's strong opinion on abortion ' their own opinions on the subject. It makes no difference whether or not their conclusions agree or not with those who are censored (or doing the censoring). If we are to hold authorities on any matter in high regard, we must remain true to the very sense of the word, authority. Granted, Dr. Gribben is just making his case. But he is also in effect not making his case as 'eloquently' as his NewSouth Books publisher proudly claim on their website. While he 'noted' those who defended the use of the N-word, he makes a somewhat noncommittal mention of the African American author, Langston Hughes, at the end of the paragraph. There isn't much of an argument here for the pros and cons of censorship. And none of the names dropped could reasonably be associated with an authority on censorship, including Hughes, whose opposition to the use of the N-word only provides insight into why Gribben may also want to do away with it for his own purposes, chief among them is for the benefit of the book's wider appeal ' to the detriment of understanding great literature and American history for this same audience. Needless to say, there is no need for such an audience anywhere in the world. These audiences are merely created by the censors. This is what Dr. Gribben does not comprehend. He's creating an audience that is comprised of victims, victims of his censorship, all in the name of his other cited reason for censorship, comfort.
Dr. Gribben does emphasize in several places in the introduction his rejection of censorship and his advocacy of Twain uncensored and unabridged. No PhD is going to censor a book without going to great lengths to justify it. But he is advocating the censorship of Twain for his own private audience. He's 'Robbin Hooding' the discomfort from the literary richness of Twain's work and bestowing comfort back unto the poor(souls).
The bottom line is Dr. Gribben wants to have it both ways. He's both against censorship and kinda sort of for it, too. NewSouth Books is allowing him to edit is book and censor it too. And in the process, he's gaining the new perspective that none of those folks he mentioned in his introduction possess ' the perspective and the authority of the censor. And in the meantime, expect more pundits in the teaching profession to 'kind of' come to his defense with arguments containing larger gaps in logic than what any of us should be comfortable with. While being against censorship for me is 'just an opinion', albeit a strong one and an opinion I hold with much righteous indignation, I'm quite content for one who's not an authority on the matter.
on October 22, 2006
The book starts out with Tom Sawyer, a mischievous boy, just trying to have fun. He plays hooky on a Friday and then has to work on Saturday because his Aunt Polly finds out. Tom doesn't want to work so he convinces other kids to take the privilege of doing his work for him. He even persuades the kids to give him something so they can work for him.
As the book continues, Tom becomes interested in Becky Thatcher, the daughter of Judge Thatcher. Their relationship doesn't work out so Tom becomes friends with Huckleberry Finn. They decide to go to the graveyard one night to find a cure for warts, instead the witness the murder of Dr. Robinson by the Native American Injun Joe. Tom and Huck are so scared that they run away and exchange blood to make an oath that they will never tell anybody about the murder. The murderer Injun Joe blames the murder on Muff Potter, an unlucky drunk. Tom now feels guilty that Potter is arrested instead of the real killer, but doesn't do anything about it.
Tom, Huck, and Joe, another friend, decide to run to an island and be pirates. They are just boys that want to try new adventures and have fun. However, when they are gone, all of their loved ones think they are dead so they have a funeral. The boys noticed how much their relatives missed them that they come to their funeral. The community is very happy to see them back, and all their friends think that they are heroes. When the murder trial comes around, Tom decides to testify about what he saw, and Injun Joe runs out of the courtroom. During the summer, Tom and Huck go looking for buried treasure and see Injun Joe hiding treasure in a house. Injun Joe sees Tom and Huck's shovels and decides not to bury the treasure there. Huck watches Injun Joe every night to try and get the treasure. He then over hears Injun Joe's plan to attack the Widow Douglas. Huck then runs for help to stop any violence.
Tom becomes better friends with Betty, and they both go into a cave and get lost. They are lost for a couple of days and are out of food. They run into Injun Joe who is using the cave as a hideout. Tom finally finds a way out and Betty's dad, Judge Thatcher, locks the cave so Injun Joe starves to death. After about a week, Tom and Huck go back into the cave and get the treasure. Huck is adopted by the Widow Douglas who he saved earlier.
The author kept me interested by keeping the plot going and going. Once you thought that Injun Joe was caught, he escaped. I like the story that the author tells. It is an adventure of an imaginative boy who is not afraid to do anything. I don't think this book is very unique because it ends with a happy ending.
Tom's family is pretty normal for that time period. His family consists of a mischievous boy, a caring but discipline guardian, a mean half-brother, and a close to perfect cousin. The author tries to make this book as realistic as possible so the characters are believable. For example, Huckleberry Finn is a believable character because he has a drunk as a father and has a lot of freedom. I think that Injun Joe is a very memorable character because he is a murderer. The author made me care about the characters by putting them in bad situations. For example, I cared about Tom when he was stuck in the cave and couldn't get out.
The theme in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has to deal with Tom maturing throughout the book. In the beginning, Tom was an imaginative boy that made childish pranks and got him and others in trouble. However, by the end of the book Tom was putting other peoples concerns above his. For instance, Tom took the blame for the book that Becky ripped. He also testified in court for Injun Joe's trial. Tom changed from a little boy to a growing man in his maturity level. I think that the author did a good job of achieving this message by setting Tom up to change drastically.
on April 25, 2003
Tom Sawyer was one of the best books. It was good from the becinning to the end. It was exciting,suspenseful, and adventurous. I recomend this book to all ages. Kids, because they canrelate to the characters. Adults, because they can relive there childhood, and remember hoew they were when they were kids.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is about a 12 year old child who gets into a lot of mischief. Tom has many adventures with his comrads Huckleberry Finn, and Joe Harper. Between feeding the cat painkiller, falling in love with Becky, getting engaged, whitnessing a murder, finding burried gold, conning his friends into whitewashig a fence, running away to an island, getting into trouble, and much more Tom Sawyer is a timeless classic.
Tom Sawyer taught me a lot. At first I thought The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was going to just be about a kid whitewashig a fence, but I learned that it has meanings behind the story. One was that kids should be able to be kids, and parents should let them be kids. Also you better enjoy being a kid whial you still have the chance. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will always be one of my favorite books.
on June 18, 2004
Although I have always enjoyed Mark Twain's work--his Diary of Adam and Eve is one of my favorites--I've never read Tom Sawyer. Recently I found a small book from the Barnes-Nobel collector's library and decided to read it. That particular issue is probably not the best to use, especially for a first introduction because it is badly edited and exhibits an inordinant number of spelling errors and misplaced words. Certainly for a volume one will use for quotations in any paper one writes a better copy, like the one above, would be more desireable.
Despite his depression in later years, Mark Twain captures the sly sense of humor and dry wit that is a characteristic of American humorous writers: O'Henry and Will Rogers, among them. This is well illlustrated in Tom Sawyer, a novel about being a kid, not just in the 1880s but any time. Twain gets right into the heart and mind of childhood, it's myths, superstitions, trials and victories, even it's great philosophies: "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 (p. 25)." (The latter a gloss on the whitewashing of Aunt Polly's fence.)
Truly a Twain and truly a joy.
For THOSE WRITING PAPERS: in English literature. How might Twain stack up against a modern humorist? What types of things make this a "dated" work? Why does that datedness appeal to many readers. How is Tom like modern children? Mark Twain was an adult when he wrote the book. Do you think that that fact makes the story less about a child and how he views the world and more about how an adult remembers being a child? Watch a film about Tom Sawyer. How has Hollywood reworked the story? Does seeing some of Tom's adventures help one enjoy them more? Or does getting "inside his head" through the book make it more enjoyable?
on June 14, 2004
If you're reading this review and expect to find some new insight or original thought as it has to do with this great book, don't. Because there is no way I'm going to be able to add anything to the thousands of things already written about it. What I instead aim to do is to get you to read the thing, if in case you already haven't. (There, see, here I go imitating the darn thing, and an awful job of it too, no doubt.)
The first thing I would tell you is that the book is an "adventure," which, well, you've probably already figured out, that word being in the title and everything. The point is, the plot just rollicks along, with Tom and Huck witnessing a murder, running away from home, and finding a buried treasure. So if that's all you're interested in--a good plot--well, here you go. Okay, okay, it's maybe just a tiny little bit improbable, especially the treasure part, but again, it's an adventure and it'll keep you on the edge of your seat and don't let this stop you.
The next thing that's real good about this novel is that it almost perfectly captures boyhood: the wild swings between joy and despair; the bravado of confrontation; the excitement of sneaking out at night; the pretending to be cowboys and pirates; the fascination with bugs and dead cats; the monotony of school and church; and the constant, never-ending, daily conflict between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. All of this is familiar to anyone--boy or girl but particularly boy--who has had the happy experience of being a young human-being in America.
What's also great is the way the book captures time and place, giving us a rare glimpse into a rural America that existed a hundred and sixty years ago. A rural America in which an apple--or for that matter an apple CORE--was a real treat. Tom has two sets of clothes: the ones he wears every day of his life, and the "other" ones, those he wears on Sundays. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, wears shoes during the summer. Here is a description of the village "pariah," Huck Finn, the first time we meet him: "Huckleberry was always dressed in the cast-off clothes of full-grown men, and they were in perennial bloom and fluttering with rags. His hat was a vast ruin with a wide crescent lopped out of its brim; his coat, when he wore one, hung nearly to his heels . . . ; but one suspender supported his trousers; the seat of his trousers bagged low and contained nothing . . ." You get the idea. The wayward son of the town drunk was "idle," "lawless," "vulgar" and "bad." Naturally, all the boys looked up to him.
The book is also ridiculously funny, but I guess I'm not going to go into that. Look. There's nothing more for me to say. If you haven't read this book, then do it. Not because some teacher told you to, or because you've been told it's grand literature or some other such nonsense, or, God forbid, you think you might learn something. Hang it, you need to read this for no other reason than that the book is just plain old fun. Why, I've read it about ten times over the years and I still think it's fun. In fact, more so maybe than the first time I read it. So there. Nothing more, nothing less, and let's just leave it at that.
on May 16, 2004
In this book, the author, Mark Twain shows his insights into humanity by portraying them through the eyes of a naive young boy. Twain shows the flaws in humans by nature and also the good side of humans. The flaws are more of a focus in this book in my opinion, flaws that are poked at by satire. Many things, everyday things, are turned into a satire in this book. Although some things are blatantly made fun of, the literary device of satire is one used most often to do so. Things that are part of everyday peoples' lives, such as religion, are portrayed in a comical spoof way. The feeling that Twain had a bad experience with organized religion is one that every reader should get from the text. Or, perhaps it is his belief that organized religion is for those superficial and shallow. The kind of people that are insecure about what other people think of them, so since others are going to church and getting involved they will too. I feel the same way that Twain does about this such thing. All in all, his use of this literary device strengthens the book, giving it not only substance but entertainment value. Twain is able to take a random and normal setting and make it special to the reader. Set in early southern 1900's America, a place where not very much went on, he took the life of a young boy and made it entertaining, good literature. Tom Sawyer, a typical misbehaved young boy growing up through grade school, is the protagonist of this book. Twain makes him a literary character that one can never forget, a simple character, yet one that will always parallel someone that one may encounter. This book is filled with many unforgettable characters, such as Tom, Aunt Polly, and Huck. Twain is undoubtedly one of the best American writers that has yet to write, many of his writing styles and techniques have been the basis of many other stories. He wrote at a time where fantasy was almost not appropriate. The status quo of literature was one that showed the real truths of life, this most likely because of the aftermath of the Civil War. This period of American literature is called Realism, because there was no fantasy, there was no romanticism and there was no outrageous fiction. People wanted to see the cold hard truth in that grim time. A country always has to grieve after such a thing as a war, and it is a process. From this process of grieving we were given the period of realism. Twain was, and is, the most popular author of this period, because his writing was simple, yet so entertaining. In this particular book, he used many literary devices to strengthen his text. All throughout the book Tom is portrayed vividly in the reader's imagination, reminding us all of simpler times. Twain's satire of this period is humorous and enjoying to read. Twain pokes fun at the popular things of his time such as, convention and proper etiquette. The literary device of satire backs Twain's text and enhances the reading experience of the book.
on April 22, 2004
I first read this when I was about 12 years old and bored out of my mind one summer. I discovered an old tattered copy among my father's faded leather-bound tomes on a shelf in our hallway. By the end of the first chapter I was hooked. This was the first, and remains one of the very few books I've EVER read that I literally could not put down once I got started. I remember effortlessly reading over 100 pages of it one day (and getting a stiff neck as a result) and being amazed that I was able to read so much in a few hours and that I even enjoyed every minute of it. This is the ultimate book for reluctant boy readers. Tom and Huck are two of the greatest character creations in all of American literature. And their adventures are sheer pleasure to read. Once the reader finds himself in the graveyard with the dead cat at midnight, that's it. He's a Twain fan for life.
To this day I find Tom Sawyer a much more fun book to read than Huck Finn. And I think that even for today's Internet and MTV generation, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer can rival anything, even the ubiquitous Harry Potter books for holding a reluctant reader's interest. 25 stars out of 5!!
on March 29, 2004
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is a wonderful book about a young mischievous boy growing up in Missouri in the late 1800's. It is a fun novel to read. You will never be bored and you will never grow tired of the adventures Tom has. He plays hooky, imitates Robin Hood and learns to have fun with what he has. He has adventure after adventure. He tricks kids to whitewash a fence that he was supposed to be whitewashing. He lives on his own for a while on an island pretending to be pirates. He witnesses a murder and releases the truth about the killer at the trail. The killer is shut in a cave and dies of starvation. Tom and Huck find his treasure, that they seen him hide one night, and claim it as their own.
Mark Twain is an excellent author. He makes all of the characters believable and seem as if that was you in your early childhood. Tom is a well-built character; he is fun and sees everything through a child point of view, which is what the reader sees because Tom is telling the story. Huck is the boy that everybody looks up to and that the boy that everybody wants to be. Overall this book was a great book that kept me reading it and wanting to read more.
on March 18, 2004
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, is a very tricky book. It portrays the image of a child's novel, when in fact it is an equally great read for adults. Yes, it is a story of childhood, but it inspires adventure for the young, and revives it for the old. Something that everyone needs to do.
Murder. It's a serious thing no matter what age you are. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn both knew this when they witnessed the homicide of Dr. Robinson while they were attempting to rid themselves of warts at the town graveyard. Injun Joe committed the murder, but he took advantage of Muff Potter's drunkenness and Muff gets blamed for the crime. Tom and Huck decide to swear by an oath of blood that they will never tell a soul, but when it finally comes down to it, Tom breaks the oath in order to testify that Muff is innocent and that Injun Joe was the real culprit.
Unfortunately, Joe escapes from the courthouse in the nick of time and Tom and Huck begin to fear for their lives. In this fright, they run away for quite a long time, and the townsfolk start believing that they're dead. One night, Tom sneaks back to his house. As he's peaking through the window, and finds his Aunt Polly weeping over him with sorrow. He realizes that he should come back home, and he happens to return on the day of his funeral, surprising everyone. Now that he's become the envy of the town, his former love, Becky Thatcher, takes a liking to him again, and they get lost in a cave together. While the two children's families' search for them, Tom and Becky stumble across Injun Joe hiding out in the cave. With a lot of luck, they make it out of the cave as fast as they can, escaping Injun Joe once again. The town closes the cave up when they find out that Joe is stashing himself inside and he dies of starvation.
Mark Twain disguised this book as a simple story, but its crafty slang and emotionally stirring power tells me otherwise. Reading about a serious, horrific event such as murder, through the eyes of a young trouble-making boy, is a perspective that will bring out the child in everyone, no matter what age they are and no matter what they're expecting the book to be like.
on March 4, 2004
I recently learned that there are some "sanitized" versions of "Tom Sawyer" out there and almost blew a gasket. YOO-HOO, SOMEBODY!! ONE DOES NOT "SANITIZE" MARK TWAIN! Putting out a bowdlerized version of Tom Sawyer is an abomination on the level of "colorizing" vintage films. "Tom Sawyer" is a classic that should be read uncut and uncontaminated. Twain is an American legend, who created in his eponymous hero an American icon, and as if Tom himself were not enough, Twain went even further and introduced us in these pages to the incomparable Huckleberry Finn. Is there anyone who has read "Tom Sawyer" who hasn't on some level identified with its hero? Tom is a lovable rogue, an incurable romantic who has to deal with his loving and nagging Aunt Polly, chafes under the constraints of school and its tyrannical headmaster, cons his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence (probably the best loved chapter in the book), runs away with Huck and turns up safe and sound at his own funeral, saves a condemned man's life, and like every other red-blooded American boy, searches for buried treasure (and unlike any other red-blooded American boy, actually finds it.) Twain created some unforgettable secondary characters; Tom's Aunt Polly, his smarmy little cousin Sid, Becky Thatcher who loves/loathes Tom by turns, and the wicked Injun Joe all stand out, but in Tom and Huck, Twain created two of the best loved figures in American literature, of their own time, our time and all time. The book deserves to be appreciated in all its unsanitized glory; this is the version to read.