Aunt Polly

Aunt Polly, the leading mother figure in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is the naive, reformist, yet loving aunt of Tom Sawyer. The first glance of Aunt Polly's naiveness and gullibility occurs when the narrator reveals that she thinks she has the capacity to covertly manipulate the actions of others -"Like many other simple hearted souls, it was her pet vanity to believe she was endowed with a talent for dark and mysterious diplomacy"(4). As the story continues, we see that the situation is actually opposite and it is more that she is the victim of Tom's manipulations instead. Aunt Sally also reveals her naiveness in her misguided attempts at health care - "She was one of those people who are infatuated with patent medicines and all new fangled methods of producing health or mending it"(92). Instead of healing Tom, she would just intoxicate him to the point where he would be having a drug induced "general good time," and "lay[ing] on the floor expiring with laughter"(95). Aunt Polly would also experiment with hydrotherapy, "drowning him in a deluge of cold water" for "The water treatment was new, now, and Tom's low condition was a windfall to her"(93). The narrator explains Aunt Polly's futile efforts at healing -"She was as simple hearted and honest as the day went along, and so she was an easy victim"(93).

The first impression we get of Aunt Polly is that of a disciplinarian. The novel begins with Aunt Polly threatening Tom -"Forty times I've said if you don't let that jam alone I'd skin you. Hand me that switch"(2) and continues with pledges to control him -"I'll just be obliged to make him work, tomorrow, I'll punish him"(3). Tom constantly finds himself in trouble and creates such a reputation for himself that he gets accused for crimes he does not even commit. When his cousin Sid breaks the sugar bowl, the first thing Aunt Polly does when she finds out is turn to Tom and scold him for it. When she finds out, she feels remorse but realizes she cannot show it for she must maintain her role as disciplinarian - "Then her conscious reproached her, and she yearned to say something kind of loving, but she judged that this would be construed into a confession that she had been wrong; and discipline forbade that"(22). When she believes Tom is dead, she thinks she might have even carried her role of disciplinarian a little to far -"And God forgive me, I cracked Tom's head with a thimble, poor boy, poor dead boy. But he's out of all his troubles now. And the last words I ever heard him say was to reproach-"(116).

In addition to providing discipline, Aunt Polly also attempts to provide spiritual guidance. In an effort to explain her difficulty in raising Tom she justifies -"Well-a-well, man that is born of woman is of a few days and full of trouble, as the scripture says, and I reckon it's so"(3). Using the Bible, she comes to the unfeminist conclusion that Tom's evil behavior originates in being born to a woman and that it is her duty to fix it. She further reinforces religious values in Tom with a small lesson which references the Edenic apple -"She was so overcome by the splendor of his achievement that she took him into the closet and selected a choice apple and delivered it to him, along with a lecture upon the added value and flavor a treat took to itself when it came without sin through virtuous effort. And while she closed with a happy Scriptural flourish, he "hooked" a doughnut"(18). By giving him an apple for doing something good, she tries to show that a fruit usually associated with sin will taste a lot better if it is associated with virtue.

The final and most important role we see Aunt Polly take is that of a loving mother figure. Despite the relentless discipline and spiritual guidance, she comes off as a caring and noble character. When Tom points out that nobody seems to care about Huck being alive after they were both thought to be dead, Aunt Polly generously gives her love to Huck as well -"And so they shall.I'm glad to see him, poor motherless thing!" and the loving attentions Aunt Polly lavished upon him were the one thing capable of making him more uncomfortable than he was before"(131). In fact, the last impression we get of Aunt Polly is of a similar nature - "There was something about aunt Polly's manner, when she kissed Tom, that swept away his low spirits and made him light hearted and happy again"(147).

Since Aunt Polly filled roles as mother figure and reformer, she can be associated with the following characters:

Mary Faibanks


More Aunt Polly Pictures