Comparison Of Tom Sawyer And Huckleberry Finn

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In the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonist is a character who is driven by his emotions, and attempts to follow his inner sense of morality and define his own ethics. Mark Twain portrays the hero of Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a clever boy who can scam people using his smarts. These two very different characters who are seen as foils for one another, due to their different backgrounds and ideas on how they should undertake the adventures they embark on in their respective stories. While both Tom and Huck are very similar, they have key differences that set them apart. This essay will reflect on several ways that both Huck and Tom are similar and how they are different by comparing and contrasting their habits and the types of people that they are.

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In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonist, Huck follows his heart and is portrayed as an emotional character driven by what he believes in, not caring what the world thinks of what he does and his beliefs. He follows his own opinions, evidenced by his utter regard of societal rules when he speaks “All right then, I’ll go to hell” when realizing that he would likely be punished for what he wanted to do when he agrees to attempt to rescue Jim. When Huck goes through with this, it shows the climax of the story, as Huck leans fully into what he believes in. While Huck says this, believing that what he is planning on doing is wrong, but also realizing that he will stand up for what he believes in.

Tom Sawyer is Huck’s best friend and is meant to be a foil to Huck. While Huck is a realist and sees the world how it is, Tom is clever and bookish, with his actions being heavily influenced by his books and the adventures he reads about. Both of these characters have so many differences between them, but they still work together to accomplish a major idea. With far different backgrounds between them, with Huck growing up in a alcoholic household with Pap, and Tom growing up with his Aunt Polly. The importance lies in what making these two different is meant to accomplish. Twain makes Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn different to show that thinking with one’s heart is at least as important as thinking with one’s head.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the adventures of Huck as he travels down the Mississippi River encountering different adventures and scenarios. From the very start of the novel, Huck is driven by his emotion. In the first chapter, Huck mentions that the Widow Douglas took him in and attempted to ‘sivilise’ him. The misspelling on Huck’s part shows that he rejected civilization and the formal education that comes with it. The action of the story begins with Huck deciding to run away from his abusive father based on a basic desire to get away from danger, but without forethought about how best to do that. Huck’s emotional character doesn’t seem to care about the danger of sailing down the river, and just does what he feels is best for him.

Huck also follows his gut instincts when it comes to his ethics. Huck makes his decisions based on what he believes to be right even when the rules of society don’t agree, best shown when he decides to help Jim. The most important issue in the novel is the perceived ethics of slavery, and how it is seen by the many charecters throughout the story. Jim, Huck’s negro friend, is a runaway slave, and according to the law he should be captured and returned to for running away. Huck’s major decision is whether he should follow what society says, or to follow his own sense that slavery is wrong. At this point, Jim has been captured by the Phelps, and will be sold unless Huck can rescue him. From an outsider’s point of view, this would not be a question; the society that Huck lives in follows laws that say that helping a runaway slave is bad and wrong. Another aspect that is not mentioned in the book is the religious implications of Huck freeing him, with the primary religion being Christianity, which would have been the most important source for many in deciding what should be morally right or wrong. In what is considered to be the climax of the book, Huck ponders if God will send him to Hell for helping a negro. Huck decides that if this is true, then ‘All right then, I’ll go to Hell!’. This passage is critical to the novel because it proves that Huck’s emotions, feelings, and his sense of his ethics are entwined. Huck’s sense of morality could come from what society says is right, but Huck only cares that Jim is his friend, and more than a negro. Huck’s primary sense of right and wrong comes from how he feels.

In the novel, Huck devises a simple plan, that would have easily worked, to free Jim from his captivity. He doesn’t have any other goals, only wanting to selfishly and quickly save Jim. This shows us his heart and his selfless intentions to free Jim. It is made clear to the reader that Huck’s plan could have worked perfectly. Following the plan of Huck, the emotionally driven character, would have led to a happy and easy ending for the people involved. Unfortunately, Tom Sawyer appears and proposes another plan. When Huck follows Tom’s plan, life is worse for everyone involved than if they had listened to Huck’s straightforward plan. This shows Tom taking control and wanting to live his fantasy, and in the words of Leo Marx, “Tom reappears. Soon Huck has fallen almost completely under his sway once more, and we are asked to believe that the boy who felt pity for the rogues is now capable of making Jim’s capture the occasion for a game. He (Huck) becomes Tom’s helpless accomplice, submissive and gullible”. This quote shows how Huck is not his own man when Tom is around, and it shows that Tom is a person who Huck will follow, and looks up to.

One last comparison between the two characters is what they represent in the book. Twain was a critic of the Romanticism era of writing and even going so far as naming a sinking ship after a romantic writer to show their style going down. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain is believed to have made Tom’s character symbolize this type of style because he dreams big and is in it for the adventure, no matter how necessary it is. An example of this is freeing Jim, and Tom’s plan, while Huck is meant to symbolize realist ideas and the future of writing, with him going off into the great frontier to make his own destiny.

In conclusion, both Huck and Tom are closely related characters from their time period, and are both very different characters in this novel. Between differences in thought processes, to different morals, and to different forms of writing that they are meant to symbolize, both of these characters are linked closely to one another in the text. While both Tom and Huck are very similar, they have key differences that set them apart.


  • Marx, Leo. ‘Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn’ The Norton Anthology American Literature Volume 2, Nina Baym. London: W. W. Norton and Company Ltd.,2013. 283-285. Print.
  • Twain, Mark, 1835-1910. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. London ; New York, :Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Wolfe, William. “The Romanticism of Mark Twain.” LITR 5535 American Romanticism UHCL 2005 Sample Student Research Project, University of Houston ,
16 August 2021

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