Mark Twain authored these two books, which are absolute gems among American classics. Readers of all ages can digest and appreciate them. The question is, which one is better (and why)?
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
Though he’s a good kid deep down, Tom Sawyer is quite mischievous. He likes to go on adventures with friends, and he always plays the ringleader, egging on the activities. Throughout the novel, he winds up involved in several pranks–some of which he drags out far too long (his poor Aunt!). His naughty ways eventually land him in a borderline life-or-death scenario. By the end, he realizes the error in some of his ways, though the readers leave him as basically the same playful scamp. Huckleberry Finn appears throughout the story as the quintessential “bada$$ kid” because he’s allowed to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants (no parental supervision). However, Huck isn’t too cool to run with Tom, so he accompanies Tom on a few adventures.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
Huckleberry Finn is a simple, kind-hearted boy. He winds up in the situation of needing to flee his home and meets an escaped slave named Jim. The two of them travel the Mississippi River together. In a somewhat similar fashion to its predecessor, Huckleberry Finn moves along by illustrating the crazy, comical, and/or dangerous situations Huck and Jim stumble upon along the way. By the end, Huck is still Huck (for instance, still hates taking baths and dressing nicely), but he grows up in other ways, such as learning to care deeply for a black man. Tom Sawyer appears towards the end of this story and, as in the first book, serves the role of “mischievous ringleader.”
Comparing & Contrasting
I appreciate The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the superior novel. [As my edition phrases it, TAHF was Twain’s “masterpiece.”] Though TATS is amusing, it’s a straightforward story, so I don’t think there’d be much reason to return to it. Actually, it reads like a children’s chapter book; it didn’t provide me much (if any) material worth pondering. With the dynamics of Jim and Huck’s relationship + social/political commentary, TAHF is far more thought-provoking, which justifies future re-reads. [See quote at bottom of post.] Another subtle but noteworthy factor here: TATS is narrated from a third-person perspective, but Huck himself tells the tale in TAHF. Experiencing Huck’s thoughts, feelings, and inner conflicts made the novel even more intriguing for me.
It boils down to this: TAHF is a meatier story with more to chew on than TATS. I want to mention two minor points, though. Firstly, while TATS provoked some chuckles here and there, TAHF had me GUFFAWING–I kid you not. Secondly, Tom Sawyer was exasperating in TAHF. Had I only met Tom Sawyer through TAHF, I would hate him! He was a little punk already, but jeez…his errant decision-making in TAHF almost made me throw the book out a window in pure frustration.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is based on Twain’s actual hometown of Hannibal, MI (near St. Louis). Some of the places mentioned in the book are real, and the town is now a tourist attraction. [This just got added to my bucket list.]
- The real Tom Sawyer was a San Francisco fireman Twain met and befriended; he was locally famous for rescuing 90 passengers from a shipwreck.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the first piece of major American literature written in vernacular English. [If you are unfamiliar with deep southern US accents, you will struggle to comprehend this novel.]
- Twain originally intended TAHF as a coming-of-age story about Huck, but after years of working on it, abandoning it for a while, and finally returning to it, he took the story in a different direction…and here we are now!
I’m ashamed that I didn’t know this already, but I recently learned there are several sequels to these two books. I’m curious to read them (and see if Tom Sawyer goes back to being tolerable or remains unbearable). 😉
Thanks for reading! Have you read either of these books? Let me know in the comments.
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that n*****’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie–I found that out.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter–and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway n***** Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”–and tore it up.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain