November 21, 2005

Tom Sawyer, Sadist

The American Scholar magazine doesn't seem to have a website, or web presence of any sort, but in the print edition there was an amusing article about how Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer wasn't very funny, in a humorless liberal sort of way. Basically you have this kid who's being skinned, lashed, hit, tanned, and cracked upside the head by his sadistic Aunt Polly until he becomes a docile instrument of production. As the lady says, "It's mighty hard to make him work Saturdays, when all the boys is having a holiday, but he hates work more than he hates anything else, and I've got to do some of my duty by him."

Now that's all very obvious to anyone who reads the novel, and the interesting part is how Tom the Marxist subverts all that, but the book becomes cruel when, in turn, Tom starts brutalizing animals. He torments a little pinch-bug and then claps his hands and giggles sadistically when the pinch-bug starts harming a dog. Then he force feeds a cat some nasty medicine or other that obviously causes the beast no small discomfort. Now I don't have a serious position on animal rights, but I can see how this might all be appalling from a certain standpoint. On the other hand, Nikolai Gogol made a career out of showing how bureaucrats who were tormented by their bosses in turn torment their inferiors, and that was usually funny, though he at least made you feel bad about it. Oh well. Interesting little magazine.
-- Brad Plumer 1:14 PM || ||