The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. "Spare the rod and spile the child, as the good book says. I'm a-laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know. He's full of the old scratch, but laws-a-me! He's my own dead sister's boy, poor thing, and I ain't got the heart to lash him somehow. Every time I let him off my conscience does hurt me so; and every time I hit him my old heart 'most breaks."
    Chapter 1
    This quote lays out the basis of the relationship between Aunt Polly and Tom. Aunt Polly is torn between disciplining Tom, as her conscience advises, and indulging him, as her warm heart dictates. She is frustrated by the boy, but loves him and feels sorry for him because his mother, her sister, is dead.
    The quote also reveals Twain's interest in dialect. He studied the dialect of his Missouri hometown, Hannibal (on which Tom's town of St Petersburg is based) and used the local vocabulary and pronunciations in Tom Sawyer. "The old scratch" is New England and Southern dialect for the devil.
  2. "Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town because he was idle, and lawless, and vulgar, and bad - and because all their children admired him so, and delighted in his forbidden society, and wished they dared to be like him."
    Chapter 6
    Huckleberry Finn is the symbol of that which is desired and admired by the children in Tom Sawyer - absolute freedom from parental authority. As such, he is feared and hated by the mothers; he is their worst nightmare, having no structure of rules or work. The different attitudes towards Huckleberry reveal the huge chasm between the values of the children and the adults.
  3. "She [Aunt Polly] was a subscriber to all the 'Health' periodicals and phrenological frauds; and the solemn ignorance they were inflated with was breath to her nostrils. All the rot they contained about ventilation, and how to go to bed, and how to get up, and what to eat, and what to drink, and how much exercise to take, and what frame of mind to keep oneself in, and what sort of clothing to wear, was all gospel to her, and she never observed that health journals of the current month customarily upset everything they had recommended the month before. She was as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long, and so she was an easy victim. She gathered together her quack periodicals and her quack medicines, and, thus armed with death, went about on her pale horse, metaphorically speaking, with 'hell following after.'"
    Chapter 12
    Twain satirizes medical fads and people's unquestioning belief in each new one, despite the fact that it invariably contradicts the previous fad. He humorously compares Aunt Polly to Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible (Revelation Ch. 6). These horsemen are predicted to ride at the apocalypse, bringing death, war, famine and pestilence in their wake. It was no secret at the time that doctors and patent medicines were a common cause of sickness and death.
  4. "Oh, they just have a bully time - take ships, and burn them, and get the money and bury it in awful places in their island where there's ghosts and things to watch, it, and kill everybody in the ships - make 'em walk a plank. they don't kill the women - they're too noble. And the women's always beautiful, too."
    Chapter 13
    After he has been rejected by Becky, Tom runs away with Joe Harper and Huck to an island, to become a pirate. Tom gives a romanticized description of the life of a pirate, drawn from romantic fiction. He lacks a realistic understanding of the consequences of stealing money and killing people, despite the fact that he has recently witnessed a real incident of attempted extortion, murder and robbery in the graveyard. He still lacks the maturity to confront either this event or Becky's attitude, preferring to take refuge in fantasy.
  5. "As the service proceeded, the clergyman drew such pictures of the graces, the winning ways, and the rare promise of the lost lads, that every soul there, thinking he recognized these pictures, felt a pang in remembering that he had persistently blinded himself to them always before, and had as persistently seen only faults and flaws in the poor boys."
    Chapter 18
    Twain satirizes the hypocritical tendency of society to value and praise people only when it has lost them. The town believes that Tom, Huck and Joe Harper are drowned, and suddenly, all those who vilified and scolded them in life are eulogizing them. Tom, with his psycholgical astuteness, has more than once predicted such a turnaround if he were suddenly to die.
  6. "'Aunt Polly, it ain't fair. Somebody's got to be glad to see Huck.'"
    Chapter 18
    When Tom, Joe Harper and Huck make a dramatic entrance into the church for their own funeral service, Tom and Joe are greeted ecstatically by their loving families. Huck, however, has no family to greet him, and can only stand to one side awkwardly. While Huck is idolized by the town's children for the freedom he enjoys from parental authority, Twain is showing us the other side of his independent state: the lack of love and caring in his life.
  7. "What a hero Tom was become now! He did not go skipping and prancing, but moved with a dignified swagger, as became a pirate who felt that the public eye was on him. And indeed it was; he tried not to seem to see the looks or hear the remarks as he passed along, but they were food and drink to him."
    Chapter 19
    On his return from his sojourn on the island pretending to be a pirate, Tom is treated like a hero. This is partly because the townspeople assumed that the boys were dead. Tom has carefully stage-managed his disappearance, his romantic existence on the island, and his return at his own funeral, for maximum effect. For Tom, seeing the response of his 'audience' to his actions is the most important thing in life: it is "food and drink" to him.
  8. ". work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and. play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service that would turn it into work, then they would resign."
    Chapter 23
    This observation highlights a major theme: the attractiveness of things that are forbidden or hard to attain, and the unattractiveness of things that are allowed or that one is obliged to do in the way of work. When Tom joins the Cadets of Temperance, he is not allowed to drink, smoke or swear, and becomes desperate to do so. He resigns, and promptly loses the desire to do any of those things.
    This perverse quality of human nature is satirized by Twain throughout the novel. It is the reason why Tom's ruse to make other children whitewash the fence (Chapter 2) works so well; he makes the chore seem like a rare privilege, so everyone wants to be 'allowed' to do it.
  9. "Tom was a glittering hero once more. There were some that believed he would be President yet, if he escaped hanging."
    Chapter 25
    Tom becomes a hero for his selfless act in giving evidence against Injun Joe, the true murderer of Dr Robinson. The townspeople believe that he will either be President or be hanged - an expression of the extremes of Tom's character. On one hand, he is capable of devious, theatrical and self-interested behavior, as Aunt Polly repeatedly points out. But as the novel progresses, such behavior becomes more rare and is replaced by more mature, selfless and spontaneously generous acts. The growth of these qualities is shown by his earlier unprompted apology to Becky, his subsequent defense of her in the classroom, and now his crucial appearance as a witness for Muff Potter's defense. This last is an act prompted not by self-interest but by a desire to do the right thing and see the innocent Potter go free. On the contrary, Tom risks his life by speaking out, as Injun Joe is a lethal enemy.
  10. "Huck Finn's wealth, and the fact that he was under the Widow Douglas's protection, introduced him into society - no, dragged him into it, hurled him into it - and his sufferings were almost more than he could bear. whithersoever he turned, the bars and shackles of civilization shut him in and bound him hand and foot."
    Chapter 36
    Throughout the novel, 'civilized' adult society is seen primarily from the viewpoint of renegade children like Tom, Huck and Joe Harper, as something restrictive, irritating and arduous. Adult society would see Huck's life of freedom as cruel suffering, and the Widow Douglas's adoption of Huck as a generous act of charity, albeit one that Huck has deserved for his part in saving her from Injun Joe's revenge.
    Huck is a reluctant candidate for such 'civilization,' because he loves his freedom. But now that the boys are close to entering the adult world (in part because of the treasure), they have to accept the restrictions that go with it.

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