National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by Mark Twain

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.


  1. How do you think American childhood has and hasn't changed since the 1840s?
  2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was already a historical novel when it was written, fully 30 years after it is set. Does it feel realistic or nostalgic?
  3. Between Tom and Huck, who's more of an outlaw and who's a conformist?
  4. Who emerges with more dimension in the book, African Americans or Native Americans? Can you detect any hints of Twain's late-career humanism?
  5. How might the fence in Aunt Polly's yard serve as a symbol? What might be implied by Tom getting others to "whitewash" the fence for him?
  6. How old are Tom and his classmates? Do they behave convincingly for their age?
  7. Why do you think Twain made Tom an orphan?
  8. Which do you enjoy more, Twain's dialogue or his descriptions? How does one complement the other?
  9. If you could eavesdrop on your own funeral, what do you think you would hear?
  10. Find a sentence that makes you laugh out loud. Change one word. Is it as funny? If not, why not? If so, change one word at a time until the joke weakens or dies. What made it work before?
  11. What important roles did Huck and Becky play in Tom's success, even though Tom is celebrated as the town's hero?
  12. Tom makes a difficult decision when he tells the truth about the murder. Compare the way he comes to his decision with Huck's choice to help Jim in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How does Tom's motivation differ from Huck's?
  13. Some readers believe that Tom develops a conscience by the end of the novel. Do you agree? Is there evidence to suggest that Tom has changed?
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