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October, ISHLT, and Tom Sawyer!


VINCENT G VALENTINE, MD
Links Editor
vgvalent@utmb.edu


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During the month of October, there is Columbus Day, Oktoberfest, the Harvest Moon (first full moon after the vernal equinox) in the Northern Hemisphere and of course Halloween. With Halloween we have superstitions, darkness, the midnight hour, full moon, cemeteries, caves, haunted houses, rotting trees and weeds, treasures, witches, switches, ghosts, goblins, spiders, owls, bats, rats and stiff cats. Also, we have those who rise from the dead or life from death along with criminals, murderers, monsters and imposters. It could all be a sham only perpetuated or enabled in corporate America. It is estimated in America that we will spend nearly 370 million dollars on Halloween costumes for our pets in 2012.

In the ISHLT we have our own superstitions (dogmatic biases). There is certainly life after death, imposters like infections posing as rejection and vice versa, but we advise our patients to avoid bats, rats, cats, and caves. Despite the progress we have made we are still in the dark on our hands and knees trying to find the right path out of the cave. If only we had Tom Sawyer's string.

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by none other than Mark Twain, we have precisely the same elements for Halloween as listed above. At the time of Twain's death in 1910, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was one of the best-loved American books; however, it was not that popular at its original publication in 1876. Twain and his publisher advertised and promoted this book as an adult novel. But William Dean Howell, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, stated it is actually a children's book. Today, the world sees it as one of the greatest children's books, but it is a better read as a book about children written for adults.

The narrator is an adult looking back nostalgically to his own childhood with exaggerated and inflated stories of his days gone by. Tom Sawyer is constantly misbehaving with various forms of delinquency: lying, playing hooky, sneaking out at night and running away—just different means of trying to get attention. Perhaps Twain was a problem child always needing attention?

If one cares to read or reread this novel, it will not take one more than a few hours to complete, and it is well worth it. The reader will gain the art of negotiation from the famous whitewashing scene, on how Tom triumphed over getting out of work by convincing and bankrupting nearly all the boys of St Petersburg to whitewash the fence he was sentenced to do by his Aunt Polly on Saturday for playing hooky from school. Among the forms of payment for Tom: marbles, firecrackers, tadpoles, glass, a kite, a spool, a kitten with one eye, pieces of orange peel, a dead rat and some string used later in the novel. These were among the treasured treasures for prepubescent boys and certainly not the precious treasure for adults-money.

And if anything was not going Tom's way, he would wish he were dead or at least "die temporarily." Well this dream came true. He was able to attend his own funeral and witness the tribute and respect paid to the young lads thought to be dead. Then this sham is revealed. There are other imposters, but the greatest sham of all is how society influenced the children of St Petersburg about proper etiquette, education and Sunday School balanced by what's proper and what's not proper.

Alongside this is the town's pariah, Huckleberry Finn. The son of the town drunkard—hated and dreaded by all mothers of St Petersburg. Huck was idle and bad, but all their children admired him. Huck slept on doorsteps and in barrels. He did not have to go to school, go to church or obey anyone. He never had to wash, wear clean clothes; he could swear wonderfully. "In a word, everything that goes to make life precious that boy had. So thought every harassed, hampered, respectable boy in St Petersburg."

Then, we consider the ethical problem after Tom was offended by Becky whom he adored. She tore a page out of a valuable book which belonged to the teacher. The teacher was trying to determine who the guilty party was, when Tom lied that he had done it. Tom took the unmerciful flogging by the school master. Becky's father declared, "it was a noble, a generous, a magnanimous lie - a lie that was worthy to hold up its head and march down through history breast to breast with George Washington's lauded truth about the hatchet."

Of course there is the innocent sham of Tom Sawyer's and Joe Harper's first pipes with Huckleberry Finn. They claimed they could smoke all day, they don't feel sick, and they wished all their friends could see them now. It was just a matter of time that Tom and Joe became pale, fell ill, "got rid of their trouble" and fell fast asleep far apart in the woods.

There is so much Halloween in Tom Sawyer down to the traditions, superstitions and downright fun among all the seriousness of the novel which are easily linked to what we do in the ISHLT and in our lives.

Be sure not to miss the quack cure-alls.

You will be glad you read this novel by Mark Twain with the rekindled sense of nostalgia and humor. After all, this novel is about the facts of life: money, death, truths revealed, nobility and puppy love all glittered with humor. When all is said and done, laughter is the best medicine.



Disclosure Statement: the author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.