Mark Twain's popular novel Tom Sawyer is loosely based on the childhood of Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, Clemens being Twain's real name. The character of Tom Sawyer appears as well in its sequel and Twain's masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, and in Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective, two of Twain's lesser works. The Tom of Tom Sawyer and the Tom of Huckleberry Finn are similar but are given different treatment, for Tom in the later novel is something of a hindrance to Huck and has become so enamored of European adventure fiction that he cannot behave without a book to guide his actions. In Tom Sawyer, Tom is more the average boy, more intelligent than most, but eager to explore the world and assert his youthful prerogatives at every turn. Tom has a rebellious nature perfectly complemented by the more natural Huck Finn, and he is the instigator of a variety of youthful trouble.
Twain wrote about his novel in several letters. He told William Dean Howells in June 1875 that the book had no plot and was following its own drift and that it might take Tom clear into manhood. He changed his mind, though, and decided not to go beyond boyhood. When he finished, he wrote that the book was not a boy's book at all: "It will only be read by adults. It is only written for adults." By the time the novel was published, he had changed his mind and decided that it was a book for boys and should be sold as such. The appeal of the novel is actually quite broad, and it reached both boys and adults (Gerber 67).
The novel was well-received when it was first published and became a bestseller in its day. An anonymous review in The Atlantic Monthly in 1876 characterizes Tom in a cogent fashion, noting first how Tom belongs in the sort of town depicted in the novel and that he has been bred to fear God and dread Sunday-school:
His subjection in these respects does not so deeply affect his inherent tendencies but that he makes hi...