Tom is the protagonist of the story as the novel’s title would imply. He serves as the central character where the story mostly rotates. He appears at every scene in the story except when Becky and Tom were lost on McDouglas cave and the focus switches to Huck Finn’s search for Injun Joe.
Tom depicted two personalities. He is a foolish child who loves to play boyish pranks on his Aunt Polly at the beginning parts of the story and one who is mature enough to save an innocent man and protect a frightened girl in the latter part.
However, if we view Tom Sawyer as a tale of a maturing novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a youthful main character, then we don’t see two Tom’s but one who, through his experiences, matures as a young man.
This means that Tom is a dynamic character, meaning, he changes throughout the story. He starts as one who enjoys playing Pirates, starting a fight and fooling around, and develops into a person with a high degree of moral integrity. A perfect example would be his decision to break through his fear and reveal Injun Joe’s guilt in murdering Dr. Robinson—an act that freed an innocent man and placed Tom, himself, in jeopardy.
Tom occasionally reverts to childish pranks, but one who essentially moves from early childish endeavors and, when called upon to do so, matures to the point where he can make highly moral decisions and commitments, as he did in revealing Injun Joe’s guilt and in protecting Becky while lost in the cave.
Injun Joe is a dishonest and wicked thief who is known for his unjust ways who achieves most of these because he is also clever and resourceful. He killed Dr. Robinson without uncertainty and for no reason except for pure evil pleasure. He framed old Muff Potter, and he is sharp enough to make the townspeople believe his story is true.
In addition, his reputation is such that none of the citizens will confront him with his evil. Although all the citizens of St. Petersburg know that he is evil, each is too frightened to confront him because they, like Tom and Huck, know that he will hit back in a violent manner.
Injun Joe is a static character, that is, he is the same at the end as he is in the beginning. He does not change through the course of the events in which he is involved. He is the essence of evil when we first see him murdering Dr. Robinson and framing Muff Potter for the crime, and he remains the essence of evil throughout.
Consider, for example, his plan to harm Widow Douglas in revenge for something her late husband did years earlier. He is considered as the next important character in the story as the protagonist wouldn’t shine to its fullest without the presence of his antagonist. He brought the major conflict in the story. In a boy’s maturation process, he sometimes needs to encounter evil in the most drastic way and how Tom deal with this clearly showed how he developed from a boy into a young man.
He is considered as the most important supporting character in the story which had accompanied much of the protagonist’s schemes. He is deemed as a disgrace and a bad influence. Like Tom, he is a foolish kid who loves doing mischief. The youngsters look at him with envy because he has complete freedom to do whatever he likes. His only living relative is his father who is the town drunkard and absent most of the time.
Huck has no formal education; therefore, he looks up Tom as superior in intelligence to his own common sense. He admires Tom’s fanciful notions about how to play games and readily joins in and is contented to let Tom be the leader while he plays the minor parts.
Although Tom is the central character in the novel and the one who changes the most, the change that occurs in Huck Finn cannot be dismissed. Huck is an outcast, and he conducts himself as an outcast. Until Mr. Jones, the Welshman invites and welcomes Huck into his home. Huck has never been invited into anyone’s house. He is realistic, knowing that he does not belong. Because he exists on the sideline of society, Huck’s character acts as a sort of moral commentator on society.
Nevertheless, when the outward layers and superficial forms of society are stripped away, the reader sees another dimension of Huck’s character revealed. Near the end of the novel, he proves his nobility when he risks his own life to protect the Widow Douglas, and unlike the typical boy, he does not want praise or recognition.
In fact, he is one who is uncomfortable living in a decent house, sleeping in a good bed, wearing decent clothes and shoes, eating good food, and not being allowed to curse, swear, or smoke.
Becky Thatcher is Tom’s love interest. She is a very mean girl most especially during her fights with Tom. Tom is obsessed with her. He starts to show off in all sorts of absurd and foolish ways from the moment he sees her. But their relationship is really just one of those hot-and-cold schoolyard romances. One-minute Becky is in love with Tom, the next she’s crying.
She is faint-hearted doesn’t know how to properly handle a situation. When she and Tom get lost in the cave, she does little more than pout and cry and collapse from fatigue.
She does occasionally show a bit of nerve, putting Tom down with a brilliant comeback or, in her shining moment, pretending to read a picture book with Alfred Temple, the snobbiest kid in school, in order to get back at Tom. But she never gets the chance to shine on her own. As such, she feels a bit too much like an object sometimes.
Joe Harper is Tom’s best friend and partner in crime. He is, as well, childish doing the same things as Tom: playing hooky, pretending to be Robin Hood, and just generally having fun. Joe’s role diminishes as the novel goes on and by the time Tom gets to treasure-hunting, Joe has pretty much fallen off the radar.
For one thing, Joe has no part in Tom and Huck’s trip to the graveyard. He did not see how Injun Joe murdered Dr. Robinson. It’s this traumatic event that brings Tom and Huck together and sets the rest of the plot in motion. Joe simply isn’t there for it. The later parts of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer have so much to do with Injun Joe that it just doesn’t make much sense for Twain to add Joe Harper to the mix. Not to mention, trying to talk about two Joes, one a scary man and the other an innocent boy, at once gets confusing.
Another consideration why Joe has quite disappeared in the later part of the story is that he doesn’t really have as much freedom as Tom and Huck. Huck, of course, has no obligations to anyone and Tom does whatever he wants. Joe, however, has the most traditional family structure; he has a mother and a sister and, one guesses, a father. He also seems to be a bit shyer than Tom and Huck. When discussing possible career alternatives, Joe’s first choice is being a hermit and it is kind of a weird choice for a kid.
Muff Potter, like Huck’s father, is a drunkard. Indeed, Muff’s drunkenness leads him to take up a life of crime with Injun Joe, and nearly get hanged in the process. In his sorry state, he barely knows what’s going on. When Injun Joe lies and says Muff has stabbed Dr. Robinson to death, Muff doesn’t put up a fight. Instead, he blames his supposed actions, and his inability to remember them on his drunkenness, and asks Injun Joe not to rat him out. But Injun Joe does just that.
Muff is certainly the most pitiful character in Tom Sawyer, and his plight gives Tom and Huck the opportunity to demonstrate their kindness and compassion. They visit him in jail, bring him gifts, and, eventually save his life. All Muff can do is thank them and warn them to avoid drinking alcohol. In the end, that’s enough. Twain invests him with enough pathos that Muff Potter sticks long after the plot has left him behind.
Aunt Polly can be annoying for Tom. She scolds Tom. Sometimes she even hits him with her thimble but no one can blame her because Tom does get into a lot of trouble.
He skips school constantly. He goes missing for days, is presumed dead, and then reappears, happy as a clam, at his own funeral.
Truth is, Aunt Polly’s pretty cool, considering what Tom puts her through. She is a loving and caring person and the very act of adopting Tom and giving attention to him proves much of it. She can be a bit foolish sometimes, with her miracle cures, superstitions, and frail attempts to catch Tom, but her shortcomings are engaging and she demonstrates her love for Tom so many times.
Amy Lawrence is Tom’s former love. She’s a stubborn and difficult-to-move-on type of person. She gets to hate everybody if Tom doesn’t give him much of the attention. She’s abruptly wiped from his heart the moment he sees Becky Thatcher, but for some reason, Tom is briefly interested in her toward the middle of the novel after he comes back from Jackson’s Island. This leads to some quarrel between Tom and Becky but eventually, Amy is left out of the story’s picture.
Mr. Dobbins is every kid’s worst nightmare. He is a very strict person and merciless, as well. Frustrated in his attempts to become a doctor, Dobbins settles for being a schoolteacher, a job he doesn’t much like. He seems to prefer disciplining his students by mercilessly beating them than actually teaching them, and he spends as much time as possible reading an anatomy textbook during class. He’s definitely not a positive influence on anyone. Luckily, the kids get the last laugh when they manage to steal his wig by dropping a cat down from the schoolhouse ceiling.
Mrs. Harper, Joe Harper’s mother, acts as a more conventional counterpart to Tom’s Aunt Polly. He is also a loving and caring mother who gets worried about her son and one who is not interested in superstition. When Tom and Joe disappear and were allegedly thought to have drowned, the two women share in each other’s grief. Mrs. Harper does not share Aunt Polly’s superstitions, however, and sets Polly straight when she comes to tell her about Tom’s prophetic dream.
The Widow Douglas is a benevolent old woman who lives in a big house at the top of a hill. She is a grateful woman who knows how to appreciate the good done to her. She is not often focused in the story until Huck tracks Injun Joe and hears him explaining how he’s going to get his revenge on her dead husband, who apparently had Joe beaten, by breaking into the Widow’s house and mutilating her. Lucky for her, Huck saves the day by getting the help of the Welshman. In gratitude, the Widow agrees to take Huck in, clothe him, feed him, and educate him.
Mary is Tom’s “saintly” cousin. By that, she is helpful and moral. She helps Tom memorize his Bible verses, and has memorized enough herself to receive two Bible prizes in Sunday school.
Even when Tom’s at his most incorrigible, she can usually find something nice to say on his behalf. She’s the remedy to Tom’s poisonously annoying brother Sid.
Just like Injun Joe, he is thievish which was shown when the doctor had enlisted the help of Injun Joe and Muff Potter to help him rob a grave, but we never find out why he needed a dead body. Dr. Robinson is a murder victim. Injun Joe kills him in order to get back at Robinson’s father, who apparently had Joe jailed for vagrancy.
Sid’s a real goody-two-shoes, and a killjoy to follow. He never has much of anything good to say about Tom, and seems to derive pleasure from messing with Tom just like when Tom was scolded at the dinner table by Aunt Polly. As such, he gets dirt balls thrown at him by Tom and is generally loathed. He’s not all bad, though. Consider, for example, when Tom complains that his toe is “mortified” and begins howling like a ghoul, Sid seems genuinely concerned.
Judge Thatcher is Becky’s dad, and, as his name suggests, he’s a judge. He is a righteous person and a role model to many. He’s a fine father and a good citizen. He searches tirelessly for Becky and Tom when they get lost in the cave and takes the utmost care in making sure that no one ever gets lost again by sealing the cave off with a big old metal door. His judgment is, perhaps, not entirely sound. At the end of the book, he comes to believe that Tom will end up being a great soldier or a lawyer.
The Welshman, also known as Mr. Jones, is a kind old man with two sons, who lives near the Widow Douglas. He is a very reliable and helpful person especially when he instrumentally gets the Widow to take Huck in and in the prevention of harm towards the Widow by Injun Joe. Huck runs to him for help after hearing Injun Joe talk about hurting the widow, and though he is at first reluctant to listen to Huck, he comes to respect him immensely.