Books That Last – The Tom Sawyer Model

What does The Adventures of Tom Sawyer have that The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today does not. Never heard of The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today? It’s Mark Twain’s first novel, written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, and most people have never heard of it. So what made The Adventures of Tom Sawyer a book that lasted when The Gilded Age did not?

Since I’ve not read the latter book, I turned to Wikipedia for information and discovered some interesting statements:

The theme of the novel is that the hope of getting rich through land speculation pervades society: this includes [all the main characters].

Was this book too focused on a problem unique to that era? Not according to Wikipedia:

Although 130 years have passed since its [The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today‘s] publication, the satirical observations of political and social life in Washington, D.C., remain contemporary.

While Mark Twain is known today for his humor and stories about life in 19 century America, he generally was masking a bit of medicine with sugar in most of his writing. His stories often poked satirical fun at the hypocrisies of society and government.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was no exception. Tom couldn’t abide all the civilizin’ his Aunt Polly insisted on. Not much escaped his scorn: church, funerals, chores, cleanliness, discipline. Why, then, has the book lasted?

I think there are two major reasons. Yes, Twain was “a master at rendering colloquial speech and helped to create and popularize a distinctive American literature built on American themes and language.” But he did that in The Gilded Age too, so it wasn’t his use of language or his themes or his ability to draw on the everyday, the common, the familiar.

It was first and foremost his characters. Did you note in that quote about The Gilded Age that all the main characters were greedy? From what I can tell in the Wikipedia summary, there wasn’t anyone admirable a reader could root for.

But I mentioned two major reasons. I think the second was the humor in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Might The Gilded Age also be humorous? A possibility. But some jokes are better than others. I tend to believe the ones in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer worked.

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 9:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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