Tom Sawyer and the Use of Novels Essay

Tom Sawyer and the Use of Novels Essay

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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: ...

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...lops through Tom’s own separate interactions with each character, each having its own conclusion. Rubin writes however: “The plot structure of the novel is directed toward that [the novel’s] end” (210).
In summation, Louis Rubin does something different with his review of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Focusing on the novel as a piece of literature and exploring setting, characters, and plot, Rubin is able to break the stigma that Tom Sawyer is strictly a historical story. While there are some slight overlooks and complications with Rubin’s “Tom Sawyer and the Use of Novels”, the essay is able to critique and evaluate the novel’s real purpose outside of being a snapshot of American history. Rubin ends his essay by writing: “It may not provide us with all the facts we want about American life, but it can… tell us what American life means” (216).

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