Reading Lives: Tom Sawyer

Once in graduate school, we were discussing Huckleberry Finn. Suddenly my instructor launched into a full-scale attack on Tom Sawyer (the character, not the novel). Tom was a symbol of civilization, he said, full of trickery and selfishness while Huck was still pure. While this may be true, I wasn’t quite sure why he hated Tom so much. I think maybe he had just participated in some departmental dirty politics and was realizing that while his dream had been to be Huck, he was turning into Tom.

Still, no matter your opinion of Tom Sawyer (PS1306.A1 1991), surely most of us can agree that the chapter on whitewashing the fence is one of the most cheerful in American literature. It’s clear that even setting up the chapter is fun for Twain:

Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-
handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep
melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet
high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged.

But then, Tom’s friends begin to appear, and soon by his sheer ingenuity, they are all doing his work for him.

So the question for our group this week was this: When did you play a trick on someone to get your way?

Colette: I wouldn’t use the word “tricked,” but as a child, I was very good at getting my sister to do things for me –  partly because I was a candy hoarder and partly because she was a candy ‘ho.  My Halloween or Easter or Christmas candy would last me a couple months.  I squirreled it away like some natural disaster was about to wipe out all the candy in the universe and mini-sized Snickers bars were to be the new gold (I was kind of weird).  A week after any holiday, my sister would have eaten all her candy, and that’s when the manipulation began.  I “traded” with her; my candy  for the privilege of making my bed or doing my farm chores.  By the time my candy stash was nearly gone, a new candy-laden holiday would refill my coffers, and my bed went on being made.  I feel guilty now.  I made her chop the frozen ice off the horse trough, before school, in the middle of a Colorado winter, for a measly pack of Sweet Tarts.  Now that I’m older, and I’d gladly give her all the candy her heart desires, she isn’t much of a candy eater anymore.  I am.  If she were a crueler person, she’d turn the tables and I’d be the one making all the beds.

Emily: There was this job this one time where I convinced the search committee that I was brilliant.

Pam: I have to tell you, I just can’t bring to mind any memory of my doing this to anyone. However, my brother—years later laughed at my sister and me saying “Remember when you’all wanted to be go sled riding with me, so I made you a deal that you could pull the sled up the hill after I rode it down?”…and WE DID! Ha. How, could we have been such idiots?

Sally: The only time I can think of when I tricked someone into doing something for me was when I told my husband that the trail we where going to hike was shorter than it actually was.  I love to hike, he not so much!  He did survive the hike, and we are still married!  We saw some beautiful scenery.

Jolly Librarian: I’m the opposite of Colette. When my sister and I were children, we would each get a pack of Sweet Tarts on Saturdays. The packets then were much smaller, with 21 pieces per pack. I would have mine eaten by Sunday while my sister was a saver. So I would then propose that we play doctor and patient. I would be the patient and the Sweet Tarts would be the medicine. I’m surprised at how often it worked. Still, she got her revenge by running over me with her bike one day when I was lying out in the middle of her ‘race track.’


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