DISMISSING TOM SAWYER. John Sutherland began his attack on Twain by quoting Loving in dismissing TOM SAWYER: “Loving is surely correct in claiming that…THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER is ‘possibly the most overrated work in American literature.'” (Sutherland’s quote is a little misleading because he omits Loving’s qualification. Loving says: “Considered as adult literature, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER is possibly the most overrated work in American literature.”) Loving faults TOM SAWYER, just as Sutherland faults all of Twain’s work save HUCKLEBERRY FINN, for lacking a weighty theme. Loving asks: “Where is [TOM SAWYER’s]] theme, other than the sentimental one that childhood is a time of innocence and worthy of celebration?” Yet, HUCKLEBERRY FINN draws power from its contrast with the idyllic picture of small town life presented in TOM SAWYER. One theme shared by TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN is the contrast between real life and the romantic and sentimental fantasies in books. TOM SAWYER is set in the same world—the same town—as HUCKLEBERRY FINN, only everything has been sentimentalized and idealized—and romanticized by Tom Sawyer himself. The character of Tom Sawyer believes the stories in the boys’ books he has read. (A sentence from TOM SAWYER: “‘You see,’ said Tom, ‘people don’t go much on hermits, now-a-days…but a pirate’s always respected.'”) In TOM SAWYER, Tom’s book-shaped idea of the world is ridiculed, but things generally work out for Tom. Tom’s appearance in HUCKLEBERRY FINN dramatizes how the conventions of books don’t fit with real life.

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  1. Nick says:

    As with Dickens criticism in your earlier post, the criteria here are nebulous and subjective. “Overrated” is inherently a relative term, for starters. Secondly, how often, when discussing very good things, does the term “overrated” simply nitpick about how MUCH we should revere something of quality?

  2. Philip says:

    I’m comfortable with throwing around terms like “overrated” and “underrated” because of years of applying the terms to baseball players. and using nebulous and subjective criteria to do so. (Admittedly, the criteria have gotten more objective recently.)

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