Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer holds a special place in American literature. Never out of print since its original publication in 1876 and equally beloved by both children and adults, it is one of the most widely read American novels ever published. Despite the book’s enduring popularity and its author’s fame as one of the greatest American writers, it has received surprisingly little scholarly attention. It is a difficult-to-believe but remarkable fact that Critical Insights: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the first entirely original collection of critical analyses of the novel ever published!
R. Kent Rasmussen, the book’s editor, also edited the earlier Critical Insights volumes on Mark Twain and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He has also written and edited a dozen other books about Mark Twain. Other contributors to Critical Insights: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer include such noted Mark Twain authorities as John Bird, John Davis, Kerry Driscoll, Joe Fulton, Alan Gribben, Cindy Lovell, Kevin Mac Donnell, Peter Messent, K. Patrick Ober, and Barbara Schmidt, as well as such emerging scholars as Philip Bader, Hugh Davis, John Pascal, Hannah Wells, and Melissa Scholes Young.
As with other titles in the Critical Insights series, this volume opens with the editor’s discussion of the book’s contents, followed by his overview of Tom Sawyer and a biography of Mark Twain. The next section, Critical Contexts, contains 4,000-word essays on the novel’s historical background, the history of its critical reception, the novel’s approach to nature and realism, and a lively comparative analysis of Tom Sawyer and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
Emphasis in the book’s Critical Readings section is on new approaches to Tom Sawyer. Its eleven 5,000-word essays examine such innovative topics as Tom Sawyer in modern classrooms, the novel as autobiography, Tom Sawyer as an enduring icon, Mark Twain’s depictions of Native Americans, Tom Sawyer within the genre of bad-boy literature, the question of whether the novel reflects an idyllic boyhood dream or a nightmare, odd superstitions in the novel, motherhood, and other family issues, the role of Becky Thatcher and girls in the novel, Tom Sawyer’s legacy in Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, and screen adaptations of the novel.
The book’s substantial back matter section includes a detailed chronology of the novel’s history and Mark Twain’s life, an annotated bibliography, and a mediagraphy listing the novel’s screen adaptations and published plays, plus notes about the editor and contributor as well as a full index.