The intent of the novel, Twain states, is to entertain “boys and girls” and to “pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves.” In order to appeal to such a wide audience, Twain chooses a Setting that permits both adventure and nostalgia. The story takes place in “the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg,” the fictional equivalent of Hannibal, the Mississippi River town where Twain spent his early years. In his preface the author dates the action at “thirty or forty years ago,” between 1836 and 1846, the era of his own boyhood. Twain also notes that Huck Finn is “drawn from life,” and Tom Sawyer is a lifelike, though composite, character based on a number of boys.
The Setting supports the major action and Themes of the work. Institutions such as the home, the school, and the church provide a social order that Tom disrupts with pranks. Jackson’s Island, where the boys camp and pretend to be pirates, offers the freedom of nature. But both the town and nature have their dark sides: the cemetery where the boys witness Dr. Robinson’s murder, the “haunted” house where Injun Joe hides out, and the cave where Tom and Becky are lost and Injun Joe dies. Tom affirms social order when he returns from the island because of homesickness and guilt. He apologizes to his aunt for pretending to have drowned, and in the courtroom, another symbol of social order, he assumes responsibility by telling the truth about Dr. Robinson’s murder. Later he and Becky escape the menace of the cave to rejoin the society of the village.