Paper Topic: Nature as an escape in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and Thoreau’s “Walden”

Nature has been seen as an escape for people throughout literature. Nature is seen as a release from the monotonous day to day, a place of refuge. Specifically in children’s literature, nature is represented both as freedom and as a scary wilderness. I find this juxtaposition of nature as two completely different entities very interesting. Nature is an important function not only in literature but also in the development of an individual. Whether nature is seen as an escape or as a scary unknown, it aids in the development of both real people and those in literature. There is significance in the presence of nature in both life and literature.

In Twain’s novel, nature is portrayed early on as a place of fun and adventure. As the novel progresses nature becomes a refuge from harm and a place to be free. There is also representation of nature as a dark, mysterious place in which bad things happen. Much of popular children’s literature today uses nature as an escape for its characters. Thoreau’s “Walden” also depicts nature as a utopian escape from society. In many 19th century texts nature is depicted as something to be conquered and exploited but in these two significant literary works nature is revered rather than seen as a commodity. The presence of nature is significant both in its role as an escape and as an unknown. My analysis would focus on the importance of nature in character development, specifically in children. The analysis will primarily be on the type of nature presented and its subsequent effects.

  1. What are the different types of nature presented in literature?
  2.  How are the different types of nature used in character development?
  3. Why does Twain represent nature in so many different facets?
  4. Why is nature such a prominent feature in children’s literature?
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12 responses to this post.

  1. Although I have never read Mark Twain’s book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” this topic seems like a great psychological approach to an ecocritical analysis. The question I like the most is the last one. I believe Nature is used so much on children’s literature because that is something they encounter on a regular basis because most children play outside. Or because Nature can be so simple for a child to grasp moral lessons from. I would add question 5: How is Walden’s language similar and different from Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. What kind of rhetoric was used?

  2. Posted by bhough on October 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I find your paper topic really intriguing, and my favorite question of yours is also the last one:

    4.Why is nature such a prominent feature in children’s literature?

    One thing to think about further might be why different depictions of nature are paired wiht different developmental levels. Is there any coorrelation? (EX: the younger you are, the more at one with nature you are; or, when the character is having an identitiy crisis, nature might function as something scary and overwhelming). I’ve never gotten to read Twain’s book, but I bet the different depictions would shed light on Sawyer’s overall human development.

  3. Posted by lpeake on October 27, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I like your last question but I feel like you would have to expand on it for it to work within your paper. Something along the lines of:

    4. Why is nature such a prominent feature in children’s literature? In what other works is it present? How is the function of nature similar of different in these other works compared to Twain’s depiction?

  4. Posted by al002 on October 27, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    This is a really focus topic and will be interesting to see if finalized. The question I found the most interesting was ” How are the different types of nature used in character development?” I find it most interesting because I took a Children’s Lit class and we vaguely touched on this topic and I’m very curious to see how you answer the question. A question I would propose to you would be from the description you gave involving “nature becomes a refuge from harm and a place to be free”:

    5. Does nature becoming a refuge from harm demonstrate the theme of nature being feminized as a mother figure as a protector?

  5. Cool paper topic because the correlations are so clear. I think question #3 is interesting because Twain paints so many experiences of nature, which is true. What I think would be worth considering is:

    6. Why does Thoreau ONLY seem to be painting nature as an escape? Why are there so few other perspectives and experiences of nature to Thoreau?

  6. Posted by lmc908 on October 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    This is a great paper topic; the idea of nature as necessary for growth and development hasn’t really been focused on. I am glad you chose Tom Sawyer, since he is a kid running around in the wild; he still needs to grow up and his adventures are obviously a part of him and influence his development. You might want to look at Jack London’s Into the Wild as well.

    A question you might want to consider is: Why are children more open to nature and and not as terrified by the unknown, and how does this affect their relationship with nature?

  7. This is a very interesting question because it has a deeper meaning nature simply being there. This question allows nature’s importance to be listed and also why children should learn at a young age why nature is important.
    Another question: Is the prominent feature of nature in children literature contradicted by the media’s constant urging that children acquire more and more things?

  8. Posted by teagueoreagan on October 28, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I like question three because I read it as a different question entirely. I think it would be more relevant to ask what unifying purpose is behind Twain’s multi-faceted depiction of nature. I haven’t read Tom Sawyer but I have read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and one of the aspects I found interesting in that particular Twain work was the correlation between nature and lifestyle. In the same way that Natty chooses to live a more natural life so does Huck Finn choose to throw off the shackles of education and structure in favor of traveling down the Mississippi and primarily living in and of the wild. The question I would add would be:

    How does the implication of nature relate to the lifestyles that Twain incorporates in his story and what is the broader message conveyed by the idealization of some and the disparaging of others?

  9. Posted by etrotta on October 28, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I like your topic about the role of nature as an escape from civilization. Tom Sawyer is a great book to analyze along with Walden. I like your 2nd question about the role of nature in character development the best. I would also add a question about whether the authors see nature as the ideal place to live or is civilization the only possible place to live with nature as a way to escape?

  10. Although I haven’t read Tom Sawyer, I did read Huck Finn and I assume the two works share some common themes. I agree that your fourth question is the most interesting, and I also like exploring the idea of nature as escape. I think one element that makes nature so compelling in children’s literature is it often represents an ideal environment for self-discovery and coming-of-age. So, you might want to consider a question like:
    11. How does nature provide an ideal avenue for self-discovery in each text?

  11. Because Tom Sawyer is a bildungsroman, or a young male coming of age story, I think your second question is very appropriate to the text you are analyzing. So to go further into your second question you could consider…

    12.) How does Tom’s understanding of nature and his place within it develop in relation to his maturation into a young man. What specific events in the book that effect Tom and his maturing moral conscience cause his shift within nature and why were those events chosen specifically? Does Tom’s freedom in the wilderness away from the constraints of society reflect his resistance to make more adult decisions for his life?

  12. I like question #4 the most and I think you can do a lot with it, first by discussing how nature functions in Tom’s childhood as depicted in the novel and then going large by asking #4. As we discussed, the novel will likely be enough, though it does make sense to connect it to Thoreau if you think he is a big influence on Twain’s depiction of nature/wilderness. In fact, Twain did own Thoreau’s Walden and The Maine Woods. Here’s a question to add, and it’s similar to #12

    13. What role does nature/wildness play in growing up? Is this different for boys and girls in the novel? In what ways is wilderness tied to ideas of masculinity?

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