The Aspects of Social Class and Proper Behavior in Society in Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

June 24, 2021 by Essay Writer


Mark Twain’s novels The Prince and the Pauper and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer tells the fictional story of young boys in a real society that existed. In The Prince and the Pauper, the pauper, Tom Canty, and the prince, Edward Tutor, exchanges roles as a result of a huge misunderstanding. Tom experiences the life of a prince and later king while Edward goes on an adventure as a pauper in his country. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer tells the story of a mischievous young boy, Tom Sawyer, growing up the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri in the mid-nineteenth century. In both of the novels, Twain uses irony and satire to criticize aspects of society: social class in The Prince and the Pauper and proper behavior in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Prince and the Pauper begins by contrasting two boys who were born on the same day in the same town of London, England. One of the boys was “born to a poor family of the name of Canty, who did not want him [and the other] was born to a rich family of the name of Tudor” (Prince and the Pauper 13). Because of their social class differences, their lives are completely different with one living a godlike life and the other living the life of a rat.

Unlike others at the bottom of the social hierarchy, Tom Canty is literate and knows a bit of Latin. This is ironic because generally peasants were not able to read, write, and were uneducated. Tom’s ability to be literate and ability to learn a different language shows that a person of a low status like Tom’s is able to have the capability to be intelligent, which contradicts the upper class’s belief of the lower class. Tom, as a king, is a better ruler and rules with more logic than Henry VIII. At one point in the book, “elderly heads [of the court] nodded in recognition of Tom’s wisdom” (Prince and the Pauper 106). Henry VIII allowed injustice to run free in his country and had turned a blind eye to it. As king, Tom uses his position to abolish the unjust laws and defends the falsely accused. If one were to compare a pauper and a king ruling Tudor England, the king would obviously be considered the one to make wiser decisions in managing his country. Just the thought of a pauper running the country would be outrageous because the pauper would be thought of as being incapable to rule but ironically in The Prince and the Pauper, it is the pauper who is the better king.

Twain uses the mix-up of a prince and a pauper to satirize social class. In a hierarchy, a prince would be considered above and better in every way possible when compared to a pauper. The fact that no one, not even the prince’s own father and closest relatives, was able to distinguish between Tom, from the lowest of the social classes, and Edward, from the highest of the social classes, shows that there is nothing different between someone of an upper class and someone of an lower class. The only difference between Tom and Edward was not the person, their abilities, or their capabilities, it was the wealth that their family has.

Another aspect of society and social class that Twain satirizes is how people judge the worth or qualities of a person by basing it solely on their appearances. In Tudor England, “the social status of any social class or person is estimated through appearance”[1]. Twain criticizes how a “person’s true worth is based on that person’s outward appearance” (Feller). Tom and Edward were labeled by the clothes they wore. Tom immediately became a prince when he wore the clothes of a prince and Edward became a pauper when he wore the clothes of a pauper.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer’s life is bounded the rules of proper behavior in society. He is expected to go to school, go to church, read the bible, and obey the adults. Instead of behaving properly, Tom is constantly violating the rules of society. “Tom is contrasted to both Sid, the “good boy” who loses the reader’s sympathies as immediately as Tom gains them, and to the outcast, Huck”[2]. Ironically, Huck, who is despised by every mother in the town, is envied and viewed as a role model for Tom and many other boys in the town. Sid, the good boy, is loved by the adults, but is not liked at all by the boys.

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn become heroes at the end of the book not because they were abiding by the codes of proper behavior, but because they went against it. The boys discovers the murder of Doc Robinson by sneaking out in the middle of the night, which is not what they were supposed to do. Knowing the truth of the murder, Tom is able to save Muff Potter, whose life is on stake because he was framed for the murder. Huck is also able to save the Widow Douglas from being mutilated by Injun Joe. Twain satirizes the fact that being a hero or a role model is done by doing what you are supposed to do, and behaving in what is considered the proper way to behave in society. The society in which Tom Sawyer lived essentially wanted everyone to be followers.

Twain satirizes the adults in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The adults expect children to abide the the rules of behavior at all times which they themselves could not do, In one part of the book, Tom is in church and sees a situation between a dog and a beetle. The dogs was jumping around attempting to catch the beetle and interrupting the church procession. The adults of the church were “red-faced and suffocating with suppressed laughter [and] even the gravest sentiments were being received with a smothered burst of unholy mirth (Adventures of Tom Sawyer (36).” The adults should have stopped the dog from causing any distractions but instead they laughed through the entire church gathering.

Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are historical fiction novels that took place in real societies. In both of the novels, Twain criticizes society as the boys go through their adventures. Irony and satire to criticize social class in The Prince and the Pauper and what is considered proper behavior in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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