Tom is a mischievous boy who spends most of the novel getting himself and others into and out of trouble. At the beginning of the novel, he idolizes Huck as the personification of freedom and independence, but at the end, he persuades Huck to give up his freedom for a life of constraint and civilization with the Widow Douglas. Thus Tom becomes a spokesman for conformity, though this is tempered by his determination to set up a robbers' gang, which will provide an outlet for his romantic and creative nature.
Tom is throughout a leader in the games and adventures in which he and his friends are involved. He has a romantic imagination and absorbs tales of pirates and heroes like Robin Hood so thoroughly that he is able to memorize dialog and plots and recreate them in games with other children. He is like a theatre director in that he has the ability to construct a scenario and determine what each character in his 'plot' will do. He is also able to predict his audience's reaction. An example is his stay on the island with Joe Harper and Huck. He succeeds (with a slight struggle) in keeping the homesick boys on the island for long enough for them to create a grand theatrical entrance at their own funeral - and is welcomed home as a hero. To Tom, adulation is "food and drink" and is the most important part of any adventure.
Tom's leadership ability and theatrical skill are in part due to his psychological insight, which often surpasses that of adults. For example, he is able to get other children to do his whitewashing for him by making the job seem like a rare privilege.
Tom is notably superstitious and has a seemingly limitless stock of old beliefs which he brings out at any occasion. If the superstition does not bear out in reality, he always has a ready excuse, such as claiming that a witch interfered or that a vital part of a charm was omitted.
Early in the novel, Tom gives little thought as to the consequences of his actions and is often reprimanded by Aunt Polly for his thoughtlessness and selfishness. He is fundamentally good-hearted, however. As the novel progresses, he undergoes a moral growth and begins to consider others more and to try to do what is right, rather than simply what is fun. A turning point comes with his realization of the suffering he has caused Aunt Polly by his disappearance to the island. After the scene when he reassures Aunt Polly that he does care about her and she forgives him, he is so buoyed up that he nobly takes on the whipping due to Becky in school. Later, he cannot live with his bad conscience over Muff Potter's being punished for a murder he did not do, and testifies in court, risking Injun Joe's revenge.
Huckleberry Finn (Huck)
Huck is the son of the town drunkard and "the juvenile pariah of the village." Having no parental authority to keep him in line, Huck is hated by the mothers of the town because he is lawless and idle - and loved and admired by the children for the same reason. Because he does not have to wash, obey a timetable, go to school or church, or do chores, Huck is a symbol of freedom for the other children. He wears adult cast-off clothes and often sleeps in a barrel. The downside of Huck's life of freedom is that he only has the clothes he stands up in and seldom has enough to eat. From Huck's point of view, though, these apparent disadvantages are nothing of the kind. When Tom is trying to persuade him to give up his freedom and accept a life of civilization with the Widow Douglas, Huck reveals that he only values things that are "tollable hard to git." He has no use for the enormous sum of money they have come into - it came "too easy" - and tries to give it to Tom.
Finally, Tom does persuade him to return to the Widow, in return for Huck's being allowed to join Tom's robbers' gang. Throughout, Huck is happy to be led by Tom in his wild adventures. Huck is less of a romantic fantasist than Tom, being more of a realist, but he goes along with Tom's bizarre superstitions. One of the most obvious differences between Huck and Tom is their responses to danger. Tom is more likely to seek it out and think of an ingenious way to deal with it, whereas Huck's first instinct is generally to run away. He cannot be blamed for this, as it has probably allowed him to survive in his vagrant life.
Where Tom seeks out the role of hero, Huck is thrust into such a role when he is forced by Tom's absence to track Injun Joe alone. He acts selflessly by alerting Mr Jones to Injun Joe's imminent attack on Widow Douglas, giving as his reason her past kindness to him. Huck becomes a hero for saving the widow's life, though he is an extremely reluctant one. Because of his lone existence, he feels uncomfortable in groups of people and being the target of admiration or even affection.
How Huck finally copes with the strictures of being 'civilized' by the Widow Douglas forms the plot of the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The novel's villain. Injun Joe is half native American and half Caucasian, which accounts for his outcast status in the American South of the time. Injun Joe kills Dr Robinson in revenge for the doctor's father having driven him away when he came begging at his house, and then frames Muff Potter for the murder. Later, Injun Joe intends to maim the Widow Douglas because her husband, a justice of the peace, jailed and horsewhipped him for vagrancy. Killing and maiming innocent people is an extreme revenge for relatively minor offenses which were not even committed by those people, but by persons associated with them. This fact, and the sheer malevolence of Injun Joe's character, mean that we do not sympathise with him at all. He feels no remorse for his crimes and undergoes no moral growth: in short, he is an unredeemed villain.
Injun Joe escapes justice when he leaps from the courtroom window during the trial for Dr Robinson's murder. He subsequently adopts the disguise of a deaf and dumb Spaniard. That Injun Joe finally pays for his crimes is no thanks to a group of "sappy women" in St Petersburg, who petition the Governor to pardon him in spite of the fact that he is believed to have killed five people. Fortunately, natural justice takes over and Injun Joe dies of starvation after Judge Thatcher blocks up the cave he uses as a hide-out.
A drunk and friend of Injun Joe's. With Injun Joe, he is employed by Dr Robinson to steal Hoss William's corpse for use in medical experiments. Injun Joe frames Potter for the murder of Dr Robinson. Despite his involvement in the relatively minor crime of grave-robbing, Potter is kindly, trusting and naive, and falls for Injun Joe's story that he (Potter) did the murder while drunk. When Potter is jailed awaiting trial for murder, he believes that Tom is being a good and selfless friend to him by bringing him small gifts. He does not realize that Tom is trying to appease his conscience for failing to speak out about the true culprit.
The daughter of Judge Thatcher. Becky replaces Amy Lawrence in Tom's affections and one of the plot threads concerns his attempts to court her. Becky is a well-behaved girl who is horrified when she looks set to be given a whipping by the teacher for tearing his book. Tom's selfless act in taking her punishment on himself wins her over.
At the beginning of the novel, Joe is Tom's best friend, though after his stay on the island with Tom and Huck, he seems to be replaced in that role by Huck, and recedes from the plot. Joe is the first to become seriously homesick on the island and the first to try to leave.
Aunt Polly takes over the guardianship of Tom after the death of his mother, her sister. Aunt Polly is a kind-hearted woman who suffers much internal conflict regarding how to deal with Tom. She feels that she should discipline him, but when she does, she feels guilty and sorry for him. Aunt Polly wants to know that she is loved, and is made happy when Tom reassures her that he does care for her.
Tom's half-brother, who lives with him at Aunt Polly's house. Sid's character contrasts with Tom's: while Tom is badly behaved but warm-hearted, Sid is outwardly well-behaved but has a malicious heart. He repeatedly tries to get Tom into trouble.
Tom's cousin, who lives with him at Aunt Polly's house. Mary is a well-behaved girl who, unlike Sid, has a soft spot for Tom and does her best to keep him Tom out of trouble.
A Welshman who lives on Cardiff Hill. Mr Jones is a kind-hearted man who is alerted by Huck to Injun Joe's planned attack on the Widow Douglas. Mr Jones bravely sets out with his sons and frightens off Injun Joe and his accomplice. After this incident, he looks after Huck and reveals Huck's role in saving the widow to the townspeople, not realizing that the devious Sid has already let the secret out.
The Widow Douglas
A warm-hearted, pious and charitable widow who is viewed by the children as a friend. Tom suggests to Becky that they stay with her on the night after Becky's picnic, as he knows that she will give them ice-cream. Because she has been kind to Huck, he saves her from Injun Joe's planned attack. In gratitude, she takes Huck into her home and plans to educate him and finally set him up in business.
See Mr. Jones
Aunt Polly's black slave.
The object of Tom's affections before Becky Thatcher arrives on the scene. Tom uses Amy in his courtship of Becky, to make Becky jealous.
A boy whom Becky Thatcher makes use of in order to make Tom jealous. Alfred has his revenge when he stains Tom's spelling-book with ink, ensuring that Tom gets whipped by the teacher.
The county judge and Becky's father. Judge Thatcher is a local celebrity. When he visits the Sunday school, everyone shows off in order to impress him. Judge Thatcher forms a high opinion of Tom after Tom successfully gets himself and Becky out of the cave. He is indirectly responsible for Injun Joe's death when he blocks up the cave entrance for the sake of public safety. At Aunt Polly's request, he takes on the job of investing Tom's new-found wealth.
A local physician who employs Injun Joe and Muff Potter to help him steal the corpse of Hoss Williams for medical experiments. In a scuffle at the graveyard, Dr Robinson is murdered by Injun Joe, who then frames Potter for the crime.
The local schoolteacher. Mr Dobbins harbors a secret ambition to be a physician, and covertly reads medical books in class. Perhaps because of his lack of fulfillment, he has acquired a drinking habit. When Mr Dobbins imposes harsh discipline on his class in an attempt to produce impressive results on "Examination" day, the children take revenge at the big event by lowering a cat over Mr Dobbins' head. The cat claws off Mr Dobbins' wig, exposing his bald head which a boy has painted gold while Mr Dobbins was in a drunken stupor. The fact that he wears a wig is another sign that he is pretending to be something he is not.
The Sunday school teacher. When Judge Thatcher visits the Sunday school, Mr Walters shows off in an effort to impress him. He desires above all else to be able to exhibit a prodigy, but has to settle for Tom, who has accumulated by barter a stock of tickets awarded to other children for learning their scriptures. Mr Walters' vanity is not in doubt, though in this respect he is no worse than everyone else in the Sunday school class, from pupils to assistants to teachers, who all show off in front of Judge Thatcher.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Character Profiles