Louis D. Rubin’s “Tom Sawyer and the Use of Novels” approaches Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from an alternative prospective then most. Tom Sawyer has been frequently used as a study of Southern American history. For example, simply by looking at the discussions in class about the novel, most topics reviewed focused on history, such as racism and religion. Rubin conversely argues that, “In using Tom Sawyer as a factual guide to life on the big river, we neglect it as literature…” and instead asks, “What, in short, is this novel about as a novel?” (210).
“Tom Sawyer and the Use of Novels” removes history from the conversation and focuses in on setting, characters, and plot, the “schematics” of literature. While some of what Rubin discusses I agree with, other claims I find hard to fully accept. In reviewing all three of these traits of Tom Sawyer, Rubin is able to argue that the novel is less about the American historical timeframe in which it takes place, but more about the feelings and emotions of what American life means.
The first piece of the novel Rubin dissects is the setting. These paragraphs discussing setting in the review I found the most trouble with. If Rubin’s goal was to focus less on the “historical aspects of the novel”, how would he be able to fully discuss the novel’s setting? Setting is the thing that places the novel in its historical subtext. Ironically, Rubin writes that the setting is actually key: “All novels take place somewhere, of course, but in this instance the somewhere is very important” (211).
Instead of focusing on time, an artificial measure, Rubin highlights the natural world found in the text, specifically Cardiff Hill, by discussing specific scenes. Rubin writes: “We have the same image as before: summer, somnolence, nature drowsing… It is extraordinary how often Mark Twain does this sort of thing… so we might very well pay some attention to the function of this kind of composition of place in the total effect of the story” (212). Continuing to investigate this idea, I’ve found that nature, and the sun itself, even becomes a “hero” in the climax. Upon escaping from the cave, Tom finds a way out because of the sun: “If it had only happened to be night he would not have seen that speck of daylight and would not have explored that passage any more…” (196). Nature saves the lives of Tom and Becky.
While it is interesting that Rubin creates these connections between nature and child (similar to the number of discussions we’ve had in class), these conversations embracing this feeling of summer and serenity with nature do not set the full story of Tom Sawyer.
For one, Rubin overlooks an entire chapter in the narrative to try and demonstrate that setting is vital. Rubin writes: “Notice how carefully Twain sets a scene before he allows Tom and the other characters to appear. Here is the beginning of Chapter II…” (211). What about chapter I? Opposite to how chapter two begins with...