Note: This is a blog post from my previous blog. Enjoy!
We’re all familiar with the literary character Tom Sawyer from the writings of Mark Twain. Tom first appeared in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain 1876) and later, more famously, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain 1884). He’s a boy, about 12, who in his title novel is bent on wooing young Becky Thatcher with his feats of strength, his wits and his handsome looks. In the story of Huck Finn, he serves mainly as a contrast to Huck, to Huck’s immaturity, imagination, and obsession with the planned rescue of the runaway slave Jim.
Throughout the novel, Huck’s intellectual and emotional development is a central theme, and by re-introducing a character from the beginning (Tom), Twain is able to highlight this evolution in Huck’s character. All boys, and men, have played this role most likely at some point in their lives. We all have played that devil on the shoulder, the brave one, the antagonist, and the charmer. It is something that used to define the character of boys and highlight the passage of growing from a boy into a man.
Based on increasing maturity development and also in line with the biblical proverb of “when I became a man, it was time to put aside childish things”, we all look fondly back at those times and in some ways, we often long to return, knowing that we can’t. In the 1980’s, the popular rock band Rush recorded a song on their Moving Pictures album simply tilted Tom Sawyer. It is one of Rush’s best-known songs and a staple of both classic rock radio and Rush’s live performances, having been played on every concert tour since its release.
In the December 1985 Rush Backstage Club newsletter, drummer and lyricist Neil Peart said:“Tom Sawyer was a collaboration between me and Pye Dubois, an excellent lyricist who wrote the lyrics for Max Webster. His original lyrics were kind of a portrait of a modern-day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world wide-eyed and purposeful. I added the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be—namely me, I guess.”
“The statement was about a modern-day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world wide-eyed and purposeful. I added the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be.” That sentiment by Peart should be a key to what more modern boys and men should be. We need to reclaim our rugged individualism and be that free spirit that we used to be. We should always be reconciling the boy and the man within us, never losing either of the two. It’s good to be free spirited, yet mindful of responsibilities and obligations. Be purposeful, yet aware of the wonders that surround us.
In the literary works, Tom Sawyer was a sage advisor to young Huck, telling him “Well, everybody does it that way, Huck.” “Tom, I am not everybody.” Tom knew this but honestly wanted to make Huck say it himself. Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.
In the song, Tom Sawyer is described as “though his mind is not for rent, don’t put him down as arrogant, he reserves the quiet defense, riding out the day’s events.” Striking the cord that an individual shouldn’t be criticized for independent thinking or action. In today’s sheep mentality, it is easier than ever to criticize an individual as arrogant or aloof.
But in the final stanzas of the song, it is the words “No, his mind is not for rent, To any God or government, Always hopeful yet discontent, He knows changes aren’t permanent. But change is.” We need more Tom Sawyers in the world today. Young men need to grow up with that wonder and perception of the world that literary Tom did, to be a friend’s foil, to explore, to live and to learn by living.
We also need them to grow to be the Tom of the song, to be modern day warriors, to think independently, understand the world around them and suffer the change that is change.
“Tom’s army won a great victory, after a long and hard-fought battle. Then the dead were counted, prisoners exchanged, the terms of the next disagreement agreed upon, and the day for the necessary battle appointed; after which the armies fell into line and marched away, and Tom turned homeward alone.”