My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is my sincere declaration that Tom Sawyer, if he were to be found in our modern age, would be diagnosed with ADHD. He would be given pills and treatment to correct his behavior. It is for this reason that I state: Tom Sawyer does not exist in our culture; we have cured him.
As Marx adroitly asks in his work, The Grundrisse, “is Achilles possible with powder and lead? Or the Illiad with the printing press…?” (The Marx-Engels Reader 246). The answer is a resounding, No. So then, neither is Tom Sawyer possible in our modern age. His behavior is erratic. The boy cannot concentrate in either church or school—Chapter V is completely devoted to a singular church distraction: a beetle, or “pinch bug”! Tom constantly misbehaves, much to the torment of his tenacious Aunt Polly, and runs away whenever he has the chance. Tom also has a terrible work ethic—consider the infamous whitewashing chapter. He even fakes his own death! It is obvious from this example that Tom cares little for the concern of others; or, in other words, he lacks sympathy, empathy, and is unfeeling and uncaring.
“Now wait,” you may say, “Tom does some great things!” Agreed. Tom exhibits what I would like to consider as a “CEO quality”. Tom is what we often refer to as a natural born leader: he is persuasive, adventurous, opportunistic, and intrepid. And he also possesses integrity—consider the moment in school when he “lies” about the tear in the headmaster’s book to protect his love interest, Becky Thatcher. But, I contend that Tom Sawyer would never have the opportunity to perform these acts and thus redeem himself. Our culture would only highlight the bad—the misbehavior, the disobedience, the fidgeting, the inability to focus—and ignore any opportunity that Tom may happen upon to use these natural qualities to better himself and his community.
This is an obvious exaggeration, and Tom is obviously a fictional character; so, my argument is an odd one. Mostly because Tom Sawyer is, admittedly by Mark Twain, an amalgam of boys he knew and stories he either partook in or heard from someone—although he does account them all as true in the Preface. What I mean to state is that Tom Sawyer cannot occur as a fictional character in our modern era; there isn’t room for him. He is no longer an adequate representation that reflects our youth; again: we have cured him of his fidgeting, his restlessness, his distractions. Any character created on Tom Sawyer is created against Tom Sawyer; he is created both in his absence and his shadow. If a wayward youth arises in our fictional arsenal he is indebted to Tom Sawyer, but he is not him.
This is not nostalgia. As Marx rhetorically states: we can only create characters that reflect our epoch. So to read Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is to read about a time in our nation’s history where values were considerably altered. We should not want to harken back those times any more than we are able. But texts like these should serve as a reminder; no, not to the “better, more simpler times” [blaah], but to a time when our lives presented different values, morals, challenges, and opportunities for children and adults alike. To consider that some of the same opportunities and challenges in Twain’s world could occur in ours is far-fetched due to a great deal of modernity; but on the other hand, the reason this text are still read, printed, mass-produced, anthologized, and remembered is because we come so close to reflecting Twain’s world. Tom Sawyer should tell us as much about us as he does about himself.