A Tom Sawyer Companion: An Autobiographical Guided Tour with Mark Twain

© 1993

Aunt Polly
After Tom Escapes his punishment, Aunt Polly mutters to herself in a soliloquy that reveals her to be a simple soul who has the responsibility of raising her “own dead sister’s boy.” Her love for Tom is shown in her gentle laugh at his escape, and a deep concern for his upbringing is shown in her simple statement:

“I ain’t doing my duty by that boy, and that’s the Lord’s truth, goodness knows. Spare the rod and spile the child, as the Good Book says. I’m a-laying up sin and suffering for us both I know.”

Twain used his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, as a model for Aunt Polly. The following excerpt reveals the nature of her unique character and the changes Twain made in her for Tom Sawyer.

She never used large words, but she had a natural gift for making small ones do effective work. She lived to reach the neighborhood of ninety years and was capable with her tongue to the last—especially when a meanness or an injustice roused her spirit. She has come handy to me several times in my books, where she figures as Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly. I fitted her out with a dialect and tried to think up other improvements for her but did not find any . . . .

Autobiography, Volume I