My two favorite literary characters both come from the mind of the same man, Mark Twain—who also happens to be my favorite author—and are featured in the classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I suppose the reason I relate so well to Tom and Huck is that when I first read the books, I was about the same age as the two characters portrayed. Mr. Twain did such a good job in creating his fictional characters, I found while reading about them, they became my friends. And since that first encounter, I’ve read both books numerous times.
The boy I most resembled isn’t the one I wished I was. Tom Sawyer has so many of my characteristics, it isn’t any wonder I liked him so. Of course I liked him; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t like myself. He is impetuous and always looking for adventure; a dreamer. He seems to be in trouble perpetually; not only at home—with Aunt Polly and half-brother Sid—but at school, at church, or wherever he happens to light. He isn’t shy about lying to those in authority in order to avoid punishment or to be prevented from doing what he has his mind set on doing. He is awkward around girls, but drawn to them just the same, and like me, he thinks that by showing off he will impress the likes of Becky Thatcher.
Although, as is Huck, Tom is an orphan, he lives in very different circumstances than his friend; a warm comfortable home with an Aunt who loves him and all the other trappings of a “civilized” life. But the life that Tom lives, when compared to that of Huck, isn’t the life he wants; instead he envies the freedom and carefree life of Huckleberry Finn. And this inner wish to be Huck is where Tom and I are the most alike. While reading both books, I found myself liking Tom, but wishing I was Huck. I too admired his life of freedom; smoking a pipe; cussing; not having to go to school or church; wearing old ragged overalls; going days without a washing; sleeping late or staying out as late as suited his fancy; in all of these I envied Huck. I too, like Tom, wanted to throw off the restraints of the civilized life. I wanted to build a raft and float down the Mississippi River. I wanted to sleep outside, underneath the stars. I wanted to answer to no one.
And yet, as a fanciful dreamer and immature adolescent, it is clear I had romanticized Huck’s life. I seemed to have left out the difficult and sad parts. He has a drunken father who beats him when he catches up to him. He doesn’t really have anyone in the world who loves him. There are many days when he goes hungry. He often doesn’t have a pillow on which to lay his head. He is uneducated and his hopes for the future because of this are surely dim. In reality, and in retrospect, I could never have lived the life of Huck. But he was the boy I wished I was and in spite of all these drawbacks, Huck turns out to be a noble figure; another reason why I liked him so. I love you Tom and Huck. Thank you Mr. Twain.
And when the latter days of life fall upon me, as the elongated shadows, created by the horizontal rays of a setting sun, fall upon the dew moistened grass on a warm summer’s eve, I will rejoin my two friends; and read of their adventures anew. What better vehicle is there for a tired old man to revisit the bounce-in-the-step days of his far off and nearly forgotten youth?