Tom Sawyer’s “Delusion of Grandeur” and its Effect on Huckleberry Finn



Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is
a down to earth, realistic, and somewhat mischievous young boy. He represents the
common man, displaying the traits of loyalty, friendship, and the spirit of independence
that has come to symbolize America. Huck is influenced, however, by his close friend
Tom Sawyer. Tom is a notorious romantic, and his “delusions of grandeur” will lead the
mundane Huck into numerous adventures. The character of Tom Sawyer was designed to
give Twain a mechanism for criticizing the romantic elements of society, and shows how
Twain was a realistic, ordinary, and mundane man.

Tom Sawyer may have suffered from a psychological disorder know as delusions
of grandeur. The illness is often seen in satiric literature, as it provides an effective
mechanism to criticize those in power of the current regime. Example of stories using
delusion of grandeur as a literary device include The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Walter Mitty was a man who would ignore reality in
order to live in his own personal dream world. McMurphy showed signs of this illness
when he tried to take control of the ward and overthrow the authoritarian “Big Nurse”.
The disorder is marked by a belief in the immortality, infallibility and power of oneself. It
is related to the so called “Harvard Syndrome”, in which individuals believe in infallibility
of their decisions. It is often seen among those who lead gangs or clubs. Tom’s desire to
create a “band of robbers” (Twain 8) demonstrated how he suffered from this symptom.

Another symptom of delusion of grandeur is the belief in the immortality of
oneself. As Tom and Huck plan the rescue attempt for Jim, they go to extreme measures
to ensure that Tom’s plan would “make Jim just as free man a man as mine (Hunk’s Plan)
would, and maybe get us all killed besides” (Twain 224). Tom’s actions show he is a
delusional romantic, who valued his ideal world and dreams great enough to risk his life
for them. When Tom was shot, Huck described its cause to the doctor in the statement
“he had a dream, and it shot him”(Twain 265). Huck was able to realize that the fantasy
had to be abandoned to save Tom’s life, while Tom would have continued living his
dream until it killed him.

Tom’s delusions sent him on a power ride which ended in the capture of Jim after
the escape. He tried to make his life follow the path of the great men before who had
come before him. He insisted that the escape must be done as “the best authorities done it”
(Twain 230). The authorities he quoted were not real fugitives, however, but literary
figures from Don Quixote De la Mancha and from a tale about “one of them prisoners in
the bottom of the castle Deef; in the harbor of Marseilles” (Twain 234). Tom’s illness
prevented him from fully distinguishing the demarcation between reality and fiction.

Tom’s role in the novel allowed Twain to criticized the romantic element of
society, and helped make The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn one of the greatest satires
of all time. Tom’s “delusions of grandeur” allowed Twain to promulgate the greatest
moral lesson of his narrative, that reality, not dreams, are what is important in life. By
showing the danger of living in a dream, Mark Twain gave a chilling wake up call to the
romantic era of his day. Twain’s realistic outlook one life made him on of the most
effective and popular writers in American literature.