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An American Classic for Boys and Young Men


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an American classic written by Mark Twain. It was not merely a literary masterpiece, but it encompassed the childhood of every American boy. The book is for all ages, but it is common for readers to pick it up in their early years.

I never read it as a kid but after recently reading it, I firmly believe it should be on the reading list for every American boy or young man. The book is an easy read in terms of content and length (216 pages), but it is packed with life lessons and philosophical gems. It is no wonder why it is an Amazon Classic with the likes of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

4 takeaways from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

1. It is okay to like a girl.

There are several reasons why the book still resonates, and one can't ignore one of those reasons is the main character himself, Tom Sawyer. Like most boys, Tom is a wild card. He loves playing games, skipping school, frustrating his elders, and overall enjoys acting a fool.

Furthermore, he resembles the typical American boy and showcases the ups and downs of an American childhood that every male can relate to. For example, his first encounter with his crush is all too familiar:

"He worshiped this new angel with a furtive eye, till he saw that she had discovered him; then he pretended he did not know she was present, and began to show off in all sorts of boyish ways in order to win her admiration."

Every young man can relate to Tom in this scene, pretending not to notice your first love is a default decision in many cases. It could be natural to do this because when you like someone you give up some sense of control. You have to be vulnerable, and open—something boys aren't used to.

2. Sacrifice and bravery are good things.

Tom can also teach boys about sacrifice and bravery. In the story, he takes blame and punishments for Becky and cares for her when they end up stuck in a cave. While in the cave, Becky freaks out:

"Oh how could I sleep! I wish I never, never had walk! No, No, No, I don't. Tom! Don't look so! I won't say it again."

"I'm glad you've slept, Becky; you'll feel rested, now, and we'll find the way."

"We can try, Tom; but I've seen such a beautiful country in my dream. I reckon we are going there."

"Maybe not, maybe not. Cheer up, Becky, and let's go trying."

In this scene, Tom reassures Becky. She realizes that they are stuck in this dark, wet, cold, cave and there is a real possibility that they won't make it out alive—a situation that would scare any adolescent.

Like many situations in life, when the going gets tough you have two choices: Freak out or find out. Tom chooses the latter and determines to find out how to make it out of the cave alive.

Learning this valuable skill will turn boys into men real quick.

3. Imagination has a time and place.

As a boy, I loved playing with GI Joe's and legos with my brother. I vividly recall my brother getting annoyed with me when I added a layer to the "mission".

I constantly wanted the saga to continue, regardless if it was dinner time or not. My brother liked playing with me until I fully lost my sense of reality and acted as if the world was my imagination.

Tip-toeing the line between reality and imagination is something all boys have to do. In doing so, they have to make choices when their "missions" develop. For example, if their fort requires a machine gun for defense they should probably opt for a Nerf gun instead of a real M9 pistol.

To us grown adults, this is an easy decision but it can be difficult for your booger pickin, loogie swallowin, self-proclaimed Rambo 9-year-old self.

Tom is too gripped by this dance between imagination and reality, In one of the chapters, Tom and his best friend Huckleberry Finn, witness a murder. After the gruesome event, the two boys swear to each other that they will never tell anyone about what they just saw.

The two boys pricked their own skin, extracted blood, and sealed their secrecy by signing their initials in their homegrown red ink.

However, later the town finds out about the murder, and talks of a criminal trial began. The true murderer was Injun Joe but he lied and said it was Muff Potter.

Potter had the odds stacked against him because the evidence against him was damning. He was at the murder scene, his knife was the murder weapon and to make matters worse, he was the town drunk.

Before the trial of Muff Potter, Tom, and Fin remind themselves of the blood pact they made. But, shortly after the conversation, they felt guilty:

"Tom went home miserable, and his dreams that night were full of horrors. The next day and the day after, he hung about the courtroom, drawn by an almost irresistible impulse to go in, but forcing himself to stay out. Huck was having the same experience."

The next day everyone in the village gathered to witness the trial of Muff Potter, including Tom and Fin. However, the trial was a setup.

Muff Potter had a crappy lawyer who didn't question any of the witnesses, leaving Muff Potter feeling doomed. He gave up all hope, accepting that no one will ever believe him, the town drunk.

Moments before the official verdict, Tom stands up and volunteers to take the witness stand. All eyes were on him as he slowly made his way there.

Tom struggled to speak and was scared seeing the puzzled faces of the audience glaring back at him.

The judge urged Tom to speak up and still, he fumbled over his words. Finally, the judge said, "tell us everything that occurred—tell it in your own way—don't skip anything, and don't be afraid."

And with that, Tom spilled his guts about everything he saw, including that Injun Joe was the one with the knife.

This scene teaches boys that there are times when reality needs to take over. In this scene, Tom fully realizes that if he lets his imaginative blood pact take over, someone in the real world will be harmed—in this case an innocent man going to jail.

For boys and young men, knowing when to engage in imagination and when to engage in reality is an essential part of growing up.

4. Boys will be boys

This phrase has gotten a bad rap over the years. It is often used to attack masculinity when boys and young men misbehave. There is one problem with this though, boys will be boys. I say this not to justify bad behavior but to encourage us to look for ways to minimize it.

Masculinity can't be removed from males so we need to figure out how to channel it.

In the last chapter, Tom established his own "Tom Sawyer Gang". The mission of the gang is to become robbers and adventure off whenever and wherever they wish.

Finn really wants to join the gang but Tom shoots his request down. He tells Finn he should stay at the Widow Douglas's house because it is a good environment for him. Tom encourages Finn to dress nicely, attend Sunday school and observe good table manners.

The story ends there, leaving the reader wondering about Tom's next adventure. This last chapter is ironic because Tom is telling Finn to be a good boy while he is off robbing and wandering around. Furthermore, Tom knows his adventures can get him into trouble (i.e. getting him and Becky stuck in a cave, and witnessing a man being murdered with Finn).

But in the end, he still chases adventure.

The lesson here for boys and young men is to use their masculinity for positive actions instead of negative ones. They can learn this by pausing, and thinking about the impact of whatever action they are thinking about taking.

Hopefully, over time, boys will learn if they just act upon spontaneous feelings, they will find themselves in sticky situations. Over years of practice, once these boys become men, they can possibly develop the superpower I like to call self-disciple.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is filled with life lessons on relationships, honesty, bravery, and many more. It's no wonder why this 1876 publication by Mark Twain is considered an American literary classic. The book is widely available and would make a great gift for your son or nephew.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer By Mark Twain


Written By: Nathan Payonk

Author of Newsletter: Nathan Payonk

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