The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is considered one of the most significant works of American literature. This claim can be explained by a variety of factors, including Mark Twain’s unique approach to creating characters. The writer is especially skillful at creating realistic characters who reflect many crucial aspects of American society and culture. Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and their antagonist Injun Joe are quite different, but a number of similarities they have allows the reader to identify some features and social problems existing in American society of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Tom Sawyer is the protagonist of this novel, and the writer pays great attention to his actions and motivations. At first sight, Tom is not much different from other children, but “what makes Tom special is his imagination” (Rasmussen, 2007, p. 503). This feature allows Tom to stand out from all other characters in this book. This imagination urges him to explore the world even outside the traditional limits set by the family and society. However, from the moral perspective, the things Tom does can be quite confusing and controversial. He often seems to be too aggressive and thoughtless, which adds some negative element to his image. Nevertheless, this character is very important to the story as he serves as a uniting element of the whole plot.
Huckleberry Finn is, as well as Tom Sawyer, a controversial character who is “cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers in town,” but is definitely a role model for many local children (Twain, 2012, p. 15). However, in contrast to Tom, Huckleberry Finn seems to be a vulnerable and modest boy deep inside his soul. His type of behavior is likely to be a sort of protection that results from the way the community treats him. This aspect makes him to some extent similar to Injun Joe who also does not enjoy the just treatment from the society because of his racial background. Finn’s function is to serve as a companion to Tom, and that makes him an important character in this novel.
Injun Joe is different from Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as he is supposed to symbolize the negative aspects of the human psyche. “The cruel and vengeful Injun Joe is the novel’s only truly villainous character” (Rasmussen, 2007, p. 496). However, Injun Joe, as well as Sawyer and Finn, is the product of American society with all its flaws and drawbacks.
Another important similarity between these three characters is that they live in a society where racial discrimination is a widespread notion. Tom, for example, easily communicates with black slaves, although his opinion about them is quite negative. He says, “They’ll all lie. Leastways all but the nigger. I don’t know him. But I never see a nigger that wouldn’t lie” (Twain, 2012, p. 65). The constant discrimination can be also one of the causes why Injun Joe, “that murderin’ half-breed,” behaves so villainously (Twain, 2012, p. 102). He is half Indian and often faces mistreatment from the authorities and locals. Although discrimination against Finn is not based on racial stereotypes, he also suffers from the consequences of the negative treatment. Therefore, all these characters are to a certain extent affected by racial prejudices that prevent them from treating people equally regardless of their ethnic background.
To conclude, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Injun Joe have different functions in the novel and reflect different types of human personality. Sawyer and Finn are adventurous children who explore the world and try to understand their place in it, whereas Injun Joe is a grown-up criminal whose primary motivations are greed and revenge. However, these characters are similar in terms of the impact that the society makes on their development and social outlook. They are typical products of American society before the Civil War.