Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

In general, pieces of literature tend to give off a feel of the time period in which they are written. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", by Mark Twain, is a novel which was written in the 1870Тs and gives a superior understanding of what society was like in this era. Education and religion were very important to the morals and values of the people of this time; they were both taken more seriously than they are now. Another aspect of the 1870's that was portrayed in this novel was the poor health care. Mark Twain displayed the thinking process of this time period when he included the small, but noticeable amount of racism towards the "still not yet quite equal in this time period" African- American race. Additionally, Twain gave the "Frontier Era" familiarity when he introduced his characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These characters were used to unleash the "rebel" typecast and demonstrated what was inappropriate for the time. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" reflects the history and thinking of the 1870Тs through education and religion, lack of satisfactory health care, racism and demonstrated what was unacceptable through the prototypical characters in the book.

"Education and religion were important aspects of everyday life in the 1870's." (1) Children were expected to go to school everyday to get an education. Those children who did not attend school were considered mischievous and unruly. An example from the novel is when Tom explains to the teacher that the reason he is late is because he stopped to speak with Huckleberry Finn. "Thomas Sawyer, this is the most astounding confession I have ever listened to" (2) Since Huckleberry does not attend school, he is considered repulsive and intolerable. Children had more respect for adults, elders and especially teachers in the frontier era. In the proceeding quotation Tom tried to show respect for an adult he admired but ended up tongue tied from anxiety. "Tom was introduced to the judge, but his tongue was tied" his heart quaked partly because of the awful greatness of the man. He would have liked to fall down and worship him. The judgeЕ asked him what his name was. The boy stammered "Tom", "No, not Tom it's "Thomas Sawyer, sir" (3) This passage shows Tom's respect for the judge and also how children used to use the term sir when speaking to adults. When a child did something iniquitous or dishonest in this time period, they were expected and take their punishment without arguing. When Tom got into trouble for skipping school, he took his punishment, without complaining, of whitewashing the fence. "Tom was whitewashing with vigor, and Aunt Polly was retiring from the field with a slipper in her hand and triumph in her eye." (4) Everybody in the 1870Тs was religious and was expected to go to church. Every child was responsible for learning the prayers. "Aunt Polly had family worship, it began with a prayer built from the ground up of solid courses of scriptural quotations" (5) In conclusion, education and religion were significant parts of society in the 1870's and were portrayed well in this novel.

Health care in the 1870's was inadequate due to lack of medical research. Also since "America had just finished fighting a civil war" (6) "the economy was low. (7) In "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", it was evident that health care was not tremendous when Becky Thacher stopped coming to school because she was mildly sick. Many people were debating whether she was going to die. "Becky Thacher had stopped coming to schoolЕ for a few days" she was sick. What if she should die!" (8) The lack of health care in this era was also evident through the novel when two of the main characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are discussing remedies to cure warts. Instead of suggesting medicinal treatment, the boys suggested organic and spiritual treatments such as spunkwater and dead cats. "СSay, what are dead cats good for? "Cure warts with "I know something better"Spunkwater" " (9) Another example of the poor medical care of the time is when Tom complains of toothache. Instead of taking him to the doctor or dentist to see what is wrong, Aunt Polly decides to pull out the tooth herself. "The old lady made one end of the silk thread fast to Tom's tooth with a loop and tied the other to a bed post" (10) In conclusion, the lack of medical investigation in the 1870's is discreetly evident throughout the novel.

Although by the frontier era African- American people had more freedom and rights, many were still used as maids and hired help in households. "The slaveholding community of Hannibal provided a mix between rugged frontier life and the southern tradition" (11) Also, many old fashioned parents brought their children up thinking poorly of other races because of their erstwhile beliefs. In "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", Tom's family possesses a "little black boy" to assist the individuals with their daily responsibilities. "Jim, the small coloured boy, sawed next days wood and split the kindling before supper" (12) In the story, Jim is definitely not a slave, but does work for the family. Consequently, some terms that are unacceptable in today's society such as "Negro" and "Nigger" are used throughout the book. These terms are probably meant to be used in a non- offensive way but would be offensive to many of the black people in the 1870's. The fact that these terms are thrown around carelessly in this era shows the lack of respect for these people. Lastly, the blacks are still partially segregated from the white people in this book. They are not referred to as just people but as black people. Throughout the book one is referred to as "the small coloured boy" (13) This shows how black people were still not treated like equals and are seen for the colour of their skin and not their true identity. In conclusion, America was still a racist society in the 1870's and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" demonstrates this particular time period characteristic through the use of inappropriate slang terms, the utilization of coloured maids and "hired help" and the social attitudes towards the African- Americans in the novel.

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is a novel that is based of the real- life chronicle of Mark Twain's voyages as a child. The two characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are "drawn from life; Е a combination of the characteristics of the three boys [he] knew." (14) Although these characters are drawn from life, they in no way represent what life was supposed to be like in the 1870's. These characters were so unacceptable for the time that the "book was banned from book list in many libraries in America" (15) for a long time. These two characters help us to understand the time period because they introduce what was "morally wrong" in society at the time. What is excepted in youths now is much more than in the frontier era. Tom and Huck skipped school, smoked and played practical jokes on each other. Joe Harper (one of Tom's friends) says, "I could smoke this pipe all day" (16) after the three boys just light up a pipe. This was no way for children to act. Children were supposed to follow the rules, get an education and most of all, obey everything that adults said. In conclusion, the insurrection of these two characters has helped in demonstrating the thinking of the 1870's by disclosing what was intolerable for children of the time.

The novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" reveals the history and beliefs of the 1870's through intimations of the importance of education and religion, instability of the health care system, racial discrimination in the community and unacceptable behaviour for the time period, which was reflected through the characters. Religion and education were the largest and most important thing of many people's lives. The health care was not up to standard and racial discrimination was just starting to die down. This novel gives a superior understanding of the frontier era.

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