The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, like many of Mark Twain's other works, contains a good deal of social commentary. But, at heart, the novel is a boy's story. Indeed, Mark Twain himself calls the book "a history of a boy." He also states that the characters and plot are based on real people and events in his own boyhood. The resulting tale is as lively as you could imagine.
Tom Sawyer is full of mischief. The main character, Tom, constantly searches for new adventures, new tricks to play, or new ways to break the rules without getting into trouble.
On Whitewashing a Fence: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
One of the most famous scenes in Tom Sawyer is the whitewashing of the fence. After Tom gets into trouble, Aunt Polly punishes him by making him whitewash the fence. Of course, Tom manipulates other boys into completing the job for him. By the time the fence is finished, Tom has become a wealthy boy as each boy was manipulated into buying a turn at the fence with their treasures: marbles, firecrackers, bits of glass, and other objects.
The whitewashing scene is famous for a several reasons. First of all, the scene demonstrates an interesting observation: "that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." The scene is also memorable because this classic manipulation is exactly the sort of thing that a rascal like Tom would do. The interaction between him and the other boys paints a vivid picture of Tom's character.
On Playing Sick (and Playing Dead): The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
In another scene, Tom participates in the age-old scheme of playing sick in order to get out of school. As often happens when children attempt to use melodrama to get their way, Tom's plan backfires on him. Aunt Polly discovers from Tom's apology that the boy also has a loose tooth. After Polly pulls the tooth out, Tom is sent to school anyway. In a way, though, being sent to school worked out to his advantage. Suddenly school wasn't such a bad place to be, because now he had something to show off to the other boys.
In a more tragic slant to his prankster personality, Tom's bought with being lovesick and brokenhearted leads him to another "brilliant scheme." He decides to run away to become a pirate, and he recruits two of his friends: Joe, a friend from school, and Huck, the homeless son of the town drunk. They steal a raft and run away together. They camp out on an island in the middle of the river for several days, playing a game of pirates.
But their absence leads the townspeople to fear that the boys had drowned in the river. By that time homesickness had begun to set in, and the boys decide to return home. The subsequent scene--where Tom, Joe, and Huck arrive at the church for their own funerals--is classic (and unforgettable.
A Boy's Passion (or Heroics)?: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
In addition to all the pranks and rascally ways, Tom has a sentimental side to him. He woos Becky Thatcher--despite the fact that he breaks the heart of his previous girlfriend, Amy Lawrence, in the process.
Tom also demonstrates a heroic side. After witnessing a murder, Tom decides to testify in court. In so doing, he rescues the poor drunk who has been wrongfully accused. He later saves the Widow Douglas from attack, and finds Injun Joe's buried treasure--thereby becoming wealthy and famous. Tom get himself into trouble on numerous occasions. It's true! But, he also demonstrates a certain degree of honesty and goodness.