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L. M O F F I T T C E C I L Texas Christian University Tom Sawyer: Missouri Robin Hood The tick-running episode in Chapter VII of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a mock reduction of the major contending forces in Mark Twain’s novel. The Monday on which the episode occurred represented merely a typical schoolday in Tom ’s experience. His pretending to be sick that morning did not fool Aunt Polly, who promptly pulled his loose tooth and sent him off to school. The chance meeting with outcast Huck Finn, from whom he secured the tick, caused Tom to be tardy and resulted in his first licking of the day. Having to “sit with the girls” gave him an opportunity to make up to pretty Becky Thatcher, but all too soon he was in disgrace again, back in his own desk beside Joe Harper. Then came the tick-running. Mark Twain describes the momentary up­ surge of joy the tick must have experienced upon being released from the box: “The creature probably glowed with gratitude that amounted to prayer, too, at this moment, but it was premature: for when he started thankfully to travel off, Tom turned him aside with a pin and made him take a new direction.”1 Thwarting the tick soon developed into a fierce and fascinating game the boys played. Tom drew a line, the equator, down the center of Joe’s slate; so long as one of the two players could keep the scurrying tick within his half of the planisphere, he alone could bedevil the creature. For a time the tick, rebuffed at every turn, inhabited a grim world indeed. Only the intervention of the schoolmaster, Mr. Dobbins, minion of a higher order, put an end to the contest. For distracting the class on this occasion, Tom was awarded his second licking of the morning. In the first six chapters of the novel Mark Twain has shaped events in such a way that readers cannot miss the point of the *The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Washington Square Press, New York, 1960), p. 61. Subsequent references to the novel are to this edition. 126 Western American Literature tick-running. Imaginative, energetic, venturesome Tom is shown to be in constant conflict with the village authority represented by the home, the church, the school. Each of these three institu­ tions in turn is seen trying to curb Tom’s natural exuberance and make him conform to the village notion of a good boy. On Friday, after stealing the jam, Tom manages to evade Aunt Polly’s threaten­ ing switch; but on Saturday morning, to expiate an accumulation of transgressions, he submits to the letter of her judgment in the whitewashing of the fence. On Sunday, forced to attend both Sabbath school and church, he is shown comically disrupting the pious solemnities of the day. His eventful morning at school on Monday has already been detailed. The meaning of the tick-running is unmistakable. The lowly tick, defined by Webster as “any of certain degraded parasitic dipterous insects,” becomes beleagured Tom. And the cruel obstructing pins, in the hands of frustrated schoolboys, represent those forces in the village, social, moral, and legal, which insist upon conformity and operate to deter the free and natural development of personality. The identification of Tom with the lowly tick in Chapter VII makes all the more remarkable the heroic proportions he assumes in Chapter VIII. Frustrated, humbled, he does not return to the schoolhouse for the afternoon session but flees instead to nearby Cardiff Hill, “just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting” (p. 11). He goes straight to his hidden treasures and performs certain superstitious rites which help to revive his depressed spirit. When he hears the approaching sound of Joe’s toy trumpet, he joyfully takes up his own bow and arrow, wooden sword, and tin trumpet and stands suddenly revealed as Robin Hood. Thus freed in spirit, he enacts with Joe Harper the ritual life and death of one of his heroes, a champion of all oppressed peoples. Considerably later, in Chapter XXVI, he initiates Huck Finn into the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 125-131
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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