These coming-of-age adventure stories by Mark Twain are published in one volume by NewSouth Books, a division of NewSouth, Inc.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is read by kids ages 12 and up, and is often taught as a tween novel in classrooms. Huckleberry Finn, on the other hand, is most often taught to teens at the high school level, usually around 11th grade, because of its more mature themes. Since these books are published together in a single volume in this version, the age range would incorporate both books. Therefore this version is written for kids 15 and up.
In the mid-1800s, young Tom Sawyer is enjoying life in his small Missouri town. Tom's Aunt Polly tries to discipline him, but Tom usually avoids punishment and manages to skip school and evade chores. Tom's troubles are simple, and his main concerns are keeping himself entertained and winning the heart of the new girl in town, Becky Thatcher.
Tom's life gets more complicated when he and his friend Huckleberry Finn witness the criminal Indian Joe murder Dr. Robinson in a graveyard. When Indian Joe blames the murder on Muff Potter, Tom and Huck don't speak out.
Tom forgets Muff Potter's troubles for a while and has some more adventures. He runs away to become a pirate with Huck and Joe Harper. The townspeople think the boys have drowned. The boys march home in time to attend their own funerals and are welcomed with hugs and tears.
Tom finally testifies against Indian Joe, but Joe escapes. A short time later, Tom and Becky get lost while exploring a cave. When the children are found, Tom reveals that Indian Joe was inside. But it's too late to save him because the cave is sealed off and Indian Joe is stuck inside.
Tom's good fortune increases when he and Huck find enough robbers' gold to make them rich. Aunt Polly takes care of Tom's money for him, and the Widow Douglas becomes Huck's guardian, though he does not appreciate her efforts to clean him up and civilize him. When Huck runs away, Tom convinces him to come back home to the widow.
When the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn begins, Huck is living with the Widow Douglas. He doesn't like being a well-behaved boy and would rather sleep outdoors and do whatever pleases him. Huck's drunken father comes back to town and makes life uncomfortable for his son, ultimately kidnapping him. After a few months, Huck escapes from his father and fakes his own death.
Huck meets up with the runaway slave Jim, and they escape St. Petersburg together, rafting down the Mississippi river. They intend to go upriver to the free state of Ohio, but they turn the wrong way in foggy weather and head south instead. Huck has various adventures along the way. He disguises himself as a girl, is caught in the middle of feuding families and meets two con men who pass themselves off as the Duke of Bridgewater and the King of France. Huck and Jim accompany the King and Duke as they try out different cons in towns along the river. While Huck is absent, the King sells Jim.
Tom Sawyer re-enters the story at this point. He and Huck eventually free Jim, until Jim is recaptured. He discovers that Miss Watson, his owner, set him free in her will. With Jim's freedom assured, Huck decides to travel west to avoid being adopted by Tom's Aunt Sally.
Many of the Christian elements in both stories seem to be presented sarcastically by the narrator, who is quick to point out episodes of religious hypocrisy or silliness.
Aunt Polly is a Christian and quotes the Bible almost every time she speaks.
Tom attends church services including Sabbath school (Sunday School) and preaching service, but he distracts the other children during class. He has great difficulty memorizing Bible verses. The ultimate prize for learning verses is a plain Bible, and the narrator mentions how difficult it would be for a child to memorize the necessary 2,000 verses required to win it. One boy is said to have recited 3,000 verses in a row, but the recitation strained his mind so much that he was mentally deficient afterward.
Widow Douglas teaches Huck about baby Moses in the bulrushes, but Huck loses interest when he learns that Moses is no longer living. The widow's sister, Miss Watson, mentions hell, but Huck is so tired of doing his lessons that he says he would like to go there. Huck decides that he doesn't want to go to heaven because it is described as a place where he will do nothing but lie around and play a harp.
The widow and Miss Watson are devout Christians, but the widow presents her faith in a way that makes Huck appreciate it, while Miss Watson's version of Christianity is stifling and legalistic.
Jim and Huck debate the wisdom of Solomon. Jim says he was foolish to have had so many wives and to have offered to cut a child in half. Huck says Jim is missing the point of the story about the baby.
The King and Duke fool crowds at a revival meeting by inventing false stories of their conversion to Christianity and taking up collections so they can supposedly go and minister to other lost souls.
Various characters throughout Tom and Huck's story frequently mention verses and phrases from the Bible.
Tom's Aunt Polly is usually angry with him. She is an older woman who expects very proper, formal behavior from her nephew. He avoids her whenever possible but does feel genuine affection for her. Aunt Polly tries to trap Tom into admitting his wrongdoings, but the narrator says she is not as clever as she believes.
Schoolteachers administer frequent whippings, and the children pull pranks on them as payback.
Widow Douglas is kind to Huck, but he dislikes living by a schedule, wearing clean clothes and eating wholesome meals. Huck thinks the widow is hypocritical because she doesn't want him to smoke, but she herself uses snuff (a form of tobacco).
Huck's father comes back into town after a year's absence and immediately begins hitting and threatening his son. He is angry that Huck can read and says he'll beat him if he goes to school again. He kidnaps Huck and holds him captive for a few months. During this time, he beats his son and chases him with a knife.
Jim misses his children. He tells a story about how he was going to beat his daughter for disobedience but stopped when he discovered that she was deaf and couldn't hear his orders.
Other belief systems
The editor's introduction compares The Adventures of Tom Sawyer's success among both juvenile and adult readers to the success of the "Harry Potter" series.
In Tom's story, Huck says that warts must be removed in a complex ritual that involves sitting at the grave of an evil person until a devil comes to collect the person's soul. Huck believes in witches and says they can cast spells by reciting the Lord's Prayer backward.
In his own story, Huck persists in his beliefs about ghosts, witches, luck and omens. Jim is fond of claiming that he has spoken to the Devil and been kidnapped by witches. Jim also practices divination with a ball of hair.
Jim and Huck have superstitions about almost every circumstance they encounter, and most of the other characters display some belief in the occult.
This edition notably changes the n-word and injun to slave and Indian. Queer is used to mean something unusual, gay is used to mean bright or happy and fagged means tired. D--n and h--- are used once or twice, a-- is used in reference to a donkey and jacka-- is used as an insult.
In Tom's story, Tom and Huck watch Indian Joe stab Dr. Robinson to death. Indian Joe discusses slashing Widow Douglas' face as payback for her husband judging him harshly.
All of the rules and make-believe exploits in Tom Sawyer's gang seem to involve violent murder, though these scenes are presented in a comedic manner. Huck fakes his own death by killing a pig and leaving its blood in the cabin where he was staying.
A story is told about a baby who was choked to death.
The Grangerfords and Shepardsons fight to the death in a skirmish, and the specifics of the fight are so disturbing, Huck refuses to describe them.
A man called Colonel Sherburn shoots and kills a drunkard named Boggs. The townspeople form a lynch mob to hang Colonel Sherburn, but he talks them out of it.
Tom is shot in the leg during his elaborate scheme to free Jim.
Tom kisses Becky as part of their make-believe engagement ceremony. Becky views a nude drawing in a forbidden anatomy book and is ashamed when Tom catches her with the book. Tom tells Huck that they will have to have orgies if they become robbers. Neither boy knows what orgies are, but they are sure that robbers have them. The word orgy appears again in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, this time with the Duke telling a gullible audience that it means a public funeral. The con man called the King gets multiple kisses of sympathy from women at a revival meeting. In the fake play "The Royal Nonesuch," the King prances around while naked.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- When Pap kidnaps Huck, how does Huck feel about living with his father again?
Why does Huck finally decide to leave his father?
Do the townspeople think Pap can redeem himself? Does he?
- Miss Watson likes to talk about God and Christian living, but she owns a slave and treats him roughly.
Why does she believe it is right for her to own a slave?
Does anyone else in town think slavery is wrong?
What does Huck's father say about slaves?
What does God's Word say about loving your neighbor, and how does that affect your view of slavery?
Where does slavery happen today?
- The King and the Duke are able to deceive people in many different towns.
Why do the people believe their stories?
How does Huck feel about their deceit?
Why does he not speak out against them?
What does he do to help the Wilks girls?
What would you have done in his place?
- At several points, Huck considers turning in Jim to the law.
Why does he struggle with his decision?
- How does Tom feel about setting Jim free?
How does Huck feel about letting Tom help?
What does Tom say they must do to free Jim from the shed where he is being held?
Does Tom or Huck have the most practical approach?
Discipline: On the rare occasions when Aunt Polly disciplines Tom, her methods are severe. To help pull one of Tom's loose teeth, she ties a string to the tooth and holds a flaming piece of firewood toward his face so he will jump away and yank the tooth free.
Alcohol: Muff Potter is usually drunk. Huckleberry Finn is the son of the town drunkard. When Huck's father isn't drinking alcohol, he's talking about drinking alcohol.
Tobacco: Huck has previously chewed tobacco and smoked a pipe, and he teaches Tom and Joe Harper how to smoke. At first, smoking makes them sick to their stomachs, but they practice smoking until it no longer makes them feel ill. Huck smokes a pipe in his own story. Other characters smoke.
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