Tom Sawyer Gender Analysis

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The Establishment of Gender Norms in The Adventure of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a classic work of children’s literature that has proved its immense staying power. Generations of children grew up reading the entertaining stories of Tom, Huck, and Becky. But as in the case for most works of children’s literature, there is more hidden in the novel than simply entertaining tales of boyhood adventure. Children’s literature gives young children a chance to experience situations that they otherwise might not encounter in real life, and can teach them the skills necessary to handle these situations by allowing them to live vicariously through the characters in the novel. Within the novel, Twain presents the reader with many different
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Despite being described as a model boy, Sid is not rewarded as such in the novel. Instead, it is his more mischievous brother, Tom, who earns glory and riches. From the text, it is seen that it is Tom’s adventurousness and boldness, traditionally masculine traits, which earn him his fortune, while Sid is relegated to the background. Based on this comparison, I argue that Twain uses the novel to encourage boys to follow traditionally masculine gender roles by indirectly rewarding masculine behavior in boys.
From the beginning of the novel, the reader sees that Sid is characterized by a lack of masculinity. When the reader is introduced to Sid, he is described as “a quiet boy, and had no adventurous, troublesome ways.” He does not run off on adventures, he does not try to trick Aunt Polly, in fact he does not cause “trouble” at all. In comparison, the
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While readers would expect children’s literature to reward Sid for his obedience and punish Tom for his rebellion, this does not seem to be the case in this book. In fact, the author seems to go out of his way to deter boys from acting like Sid. At one point the narrator says: “There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” In this line, the phrase “rightly constructed” suggests normalcy, as if there is something wrong with boys that do not seek out adventure. Meanwhile, Sid is described as having “no adventurous, troublesome ways,” which suggests that Sid is not a normal boy. This wording suggests that in this piece of literature, the reader is not supposed to follow Sid’s behavior, rather they should go on an adventure like Tom and Huck. This point is further strengthened in the novel’s end, when the reader learns that adventuring was able to bring Tom and Huck a small fortune, along with glory and prestige. At the end of the book “their sayings were treasured and repeated; everything they did seemed somehow to be regarded as remarkable,” simply because they went on an adventure. This is a complete turnaround from the middle of the book, when Tom thought of himself as “a forsaken, friendless boy.” All it took to change this state was an adventure. From the
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