Mark Twain Publishes "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, is a popular 1876 novel about a young boy growing up in the antebellum South, in the town of "St Petersburg", inspired by the town of Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River, where Mark Twain grew up. In the story's introduction, Twain notes:
Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred; one or two were experiences of my own, the rest those of boys who were schoolmates of mine. Huck Finn is drawn from life; Tom Sawyer also, but not from an individual—he is a combination of the characteristics of three boys whom I knew, and therefore belongs to the composite order of architecture.
The imaginative and mischievous twelve-year-old boy named Thomas Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly, his half-brother, Sid, also known as Sidney, and cousin Mary, in the Mississippi River town of St Petersburg, Missouri. After playing hooky from school on Friday and dirtying his clothes in a fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence as punishment on Saturday. At first, Tom is disappointed by having to forfeit his day off. However, he soon cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work. He trades these treasures for tickets given out in Sunday school for memorizing Bible verses and uses the tickets to claim a Bible as a prize. He loses much of his glory, however, when, in response to a question to show off his knowledge, he incorrectly answers that the first two Disciples were David and Goliath!
Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get “engaged” to him. Their romance collapses when she learns that Tom has been engaged before—to a girl named Amy Lawrence. Shortly after being shunned by Becky, Tom accompanies Huckleberry Finn, the son of the town drunk, to the graveyard at night to try out a “cure” for warts. At the graveyard, they witness the murder of young Dr Robinson by a part-Native American “half-breed”, Injun Joe. Scared, Tom and Huck run away and swear a blood oath not to tell anyone what they have seen. Injun Joe blames his companion, Muff Potter, a hapless drunk, for the crime. Potter is wrongfully arrested, and Tom's anxiety and guilt begin to grow.
Tom, Huck and their friend Joe Harper run away to an island on the Mississippi, in order to "become pirates". While frolicking around and enjoying their new-found freedom, the boys become aware that the community is sounding the river for their bodies. Tom sneaks back home one night to observe the commotion. After a brief moment of remorse at the suffering of his loved ones, Tom is struck by the idea of appearing at his funeral and surprising everyone. He persuades Joe and Huck to do the same. Their return is met with great rejoicing, and they become the envy and admiration of all their friends.
Back in school, Tom gets himself back in Becky's favor after he nobly accepts the blame for a book that she has torn. Soon Muff Potter's trial begins, and Tom, overcome by guilt, testifies against Injun Joe. Potter is acquitted, but Injun Joe flees the courtroom through a window. Tom and Huck start to worry that Injun Joe will attempt to exact revenge.
Fall arrives, and Tom and Huck go hunting for buried treasure in a haunted house. After venturing upstairs they hear a noise below. Peering through holes in the floor, they see Injun Joe enter the house disguised as a deaf and mute Spaniard. He and his companion, an unkempt man, plan to bury some stolen treasure of their own. From their hiding spot, Tom and Huck wriggle with delight at the prospect of digging it up. By an amazing coincidence, Injun Joe and his partner find a buried box of gold themselves. When they see Tom and Huck's tools, they become suspicious that someone is sharing their hiding place and carry the gold off instead of reburying it.
Huck begins to shadow Injun Joe every night, watching for an opportunity to nab the gold. Meanwhile, Tom goes on a picnic to McDougal's Cave with Becky and their classmates. That same night, Huck sees Injun Joe and his partner making off with a box. He follows and overhears their plans to attack the Widow Douglas, a kind resident of St. Petersburg. By running to fetch help, Huck forestalls the violence and becomes an anonymous hero.
Tom and Becky get lost in the cave, and their absence is not discovered until the following morning. The men of the town begin to search for them, but to no avail. Tom and Becky run out of food and candles and begin to weaken. The horror of the situation increases when Tom, looking for a way out of the cave, happens upon Injun Joe, who is using the cave as a hideout. At the sight of Tom, Injun Joe flees. Eventually, just as the searchers are giving up, Tom finds a way out. The town celebrates, and Becky's father, Judge Thatcher seals up the main entrance with an iron door. After a week Injun Joe, trapped inside, starves to death. Injun Joe's partner accidentally drowns trying to escape.
A week later, Tom takes Huck to the cave via the new entrance Tom has found and they find the box of gold, the proceeds of which are invested for them. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, and, when Huck attempts to escape civilized life, Tom promises him that if he returns to the widow, he can join Tom's robber band. Reluctantly, Huck agrees.
Literary significance and reception
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The sales of Tom Sawyer were lukewarm at first. It initially sold less than a third as many copies as Twain's Innocents Abroad. By the time of Mark Twain's death, however, Tom Sawyer was both an American classic and a bestseller.
The first publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was by Chatto and Windus, in England in June, 1876 (it was listed as "ready" on June 10th and was reviewed on June 24th in the literary publication The Atheneum), and in the U.S. by subscription only in December 1876. Twain and other U.S. authors used initial publication in England fairly often, since otherwise it was impossible to obtain a copyright in the British Commonwealth. In the case of Tom Sawyer, the delay between the London and U.S. editions extended much beyond what Twain envisioned, or desired. This led to widespread piracy of the work - notably a July, 1876 pirated edition in Canada obtained by many American readers - and, Twain believed, to a significant loss of his royalties.
When the work did appear in the U.S., it was sold by subscription only. In this distribution method, book agents across the country took orders for the book prior to publication and then delivered the book when available. It was only with subsequent editions that the book became available at retail shops.
In dictations for his autobiography, Twain claimed Tom Sawyer "must have been" the first book whose manuscript was typed on a typewriter. However, typewriter historian Darryl Rehr has concluded that Twain's first typed manuscript was Life on the Mississippi.
Not counting The Gilded Age, which was co-authored with Charles Dudley Warner, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was Mark Twain's first novel. By the time MT died, it had become an American classic, and it remains perhaps the best-loved of all his books among general readers. When it first came out in 1876, however, it was comparatively a failure. Despite MT's determination "that Tom shall outsell any previous book of mine," the American Publishing Co. sold less than 24,000 copies in the book's first year (compared, for example, to 70,000 for Innocents Abroad in a comparable period). As an imaginative act, Tom Sawyer led directly on to the greatness of Huckleberry Finn and MT's other fictions of childhood or the Mississippi valley. As a commercial disaster, it pushed MT in the direction that would lead him to create his own publishing company.