Satire in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”


Satire, as a writing technique, is a genre of literature that uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to bring out vices, follies, abuses, foolishness, and shortcomings of individuals in society, with the aim of the individuals and the community itself, hoping to realize an improvement. In as much as satire is meant to be funny, its primary objective is usually to constructive social criticism (“Satire”), which uses wit as a tool to draw attention to specific and broader issues in society. Writers focus satire on the world, a country, or on people, to expose their stupidity to achieve an improvement in their characters by overcoming their weakness.

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Satire is usually intended to improve humanity in a ‘funny’ way, using words that are humorous to expose issues that are crucial to society. According to Rajkishor Singh (International Journal of English), a standard feature of satire is strong irony and sarcasm- “in satire, the irony is militant, although parody, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, and analogy are used in satirical writings and speech.

Therefore, most writers mostly use satire to expose the dishonesty and silliness of individuals and society and to criticize such by ridiculing them.

Different authors use satire in different works in different ways. In the story “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, satire is evident in forms of humor, irony, exaggeration, parody, and ridicule, and is used to bring up and criticize individuals’ vices concerning contemporary politics and other critical issues (“The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer Summary”).

To begin with, Tom tricks his aunt, Polly, after he stole jam from the jar and Aunt Polly wants to whip her. He shouts “look behind you..!!” and runs away as the aunt looks behind her. He as well lies about not going swimming and convinces her aunt that his collar is still sewn from the morning and that he had just pumped water on his head. Aunt Polly gets satisfied and doesn’t punish Tom (“Satire In Tom Sawyer – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.Com”). This is satirical in the sense that Tom just tricks his aunt and gets away with a mistake and his aunt tries to show that there are other ways to solve problems and consequences apart from whipping a child, even if Tom deserves punishment.

Sunday School Scene

Satire in this view is visible when Judge Thatcher compliments Tom and says that he will be “a great man and a good man,” for mastering the required Bible verses, not knowing that Tom had purchased the tickets won for the best memory of Bible verses, with the money from his whitewashing scam. This shows how individuals bribe their ways to opportunities in society, which they do not deserve or qualify to win (“The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer Summary”). This is evident when the Judge pats Tom on the back and asks him to name the first two disciples who were appointed

Tom has no idea and shouts “David and Goliath!!”(P. 1-3). Mark Twain uses this to expose people in the society who hold positions that they do not deserve or qualify to keep, but just bribe themselves through (“Satire”).

During the church service, Tom gets bored, takes out a box containing a giant black beetle, and throws it to the isle (the beetle bites him). A stray dog in the church sits on the beetle, which latches on its back and its master throws it through the window (“Satire In Tom Sawyer – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.Com”). The laughter from the congregation disrupts the sermon. This is satirical in that Tom does not obey the house of God and jokes inside the church, then the people do not respect the sermon since they burst out at what happens with the dog and the beetle instead of stopping it or paying attention to the sermon itself.

It is also satirical that Tom tries to find as many ways as possible to skip going to school, yet the school does nothing to prevent the kid from skipping school.

In chapter 22, Tom vows to stop drinking and not to swear again (Ekasani, Kadek Ayu). However, he learns that “promising not to do something is the best of the ways to make one’s body want to do that thing.” He is unable to abstain from the vices and goes back to his mischievous ways. This is satirical and points how individuals make promises that they do not come to keep which is a human weakness. Later, in chapter 23, the trial of Muff Porter comes up. Tom realizes that for justice to happen, he must decide to come out straight with his eyewitness account of the murder, which most readers see as a very mature decision (“Satire”). However, it is satirical since had Tom told the truth from the very beginning, Muff Porter’s trial would not have taken place.

Throughout the novel, Tom and Huck pretend to search for treasure; gold, jewels, silver, and other useful things. On the contrary, the more the boys search for the treasure, the more they land into problems. This is satirical and is symbolic of man’s greed and the quest for life adventure, which in turn falls man into serious life problems like corruption and even theft.

Tom and his friends, Joe Harper and Huck, decide to run away from the ‘normal society’ to Jackson Island. It is a decision made by them but the whole town drags the river for their bodies, assuming that they drowned (Li, Shuqin). Later, when the villagers plan for their burial, the boys sneak back to attend their funerals then reveal to the congregation that they are indeed alive.

At school, it is satirical that Tom takes the punishment for Becky for breaking the schoolmaster’s book, even though Becky has not yet accepted his love back.

Another satire is visible when the widow Douglas tells Huck about Moses of the Bible, yet Huck does not see the meaning of her caring so much about him (Li, Shuqin). Later, Huck realizes that prayer does not help and even declares that he’ll go to hell. Twain uses this to attack the blind faith that individuals place towards religion.

Even after going through stressful situations in their quest to be wealthy with treasure (Ekasani, Kadek Ayu), the novel ends with Huck and Tom talking about how they plan to be world-class robbers in the future! This is very satirical.


Mark Twain, like most authors, has used his work to point out issues affecting society. However, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ stands out for revealing the vices, stupidity, and evil-doing of individuals in a satirical way. This is very relevant since it uses an approach that relates readily to the readers. Satire, therefore, qualifies as one the best ways for the authors to create an effect on the world with their works


Works Cited

“Satire In Tom Sawyer – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.Com.” Study.Com, 2017,

“Satire.” The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, 2017,

“The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer Summary.” Shmoop.Com, 2017,

Ekasani, Kadek Ayu. “The Analysis Of English – Indonesian Exclamative Clauses In The Novel Entitled The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer By Mark Twain And Their Indonesian Version Entitled Petualangan Tom Sawyer Translated By Djokolelono.” International Journal Of Linguistics, Literature And Culture, vol. 2, no. 1, 2016.

Li, Shuqin. “A Probe into the Profile of Tom Sawyer in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Theory And Practice In Language Studies, vol. 3, no. 6, 2013, Academy Publication, doi:10.4304/tpls.3.6.1021-1025.

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