If Tom Sawyer were a schoolboy today, he’d be diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), writes Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. And maybe CD (Conduct Disorder) too.
“The harder Tom tried to fasten his mind on his book, the more his mind wandered,” Twain writes at one point. Unable to focus (“Tom’s heart ached to be free”) he starts playing with a tick. This behavior is part of a regular pattern: A few days earlier in church (where he had to sit “as far away from the open window and the seductive outside summer scenes as possible”), Tom had been unable to pay attention to the sermon and played with a pinch bug instead.
Tom “blames his half-brother for his poor decisions, demonstrating an inability to take responsibility for his actions. He provokes his peers, often using aggression. He deliberately ignores rules and demonstrates defiance toward adults. He is frequently dishonest, at one point even pretending to be dead.” Of course, he skips school.
Although ADHD and ODD are often dismissed as recently “invented” disorders, they describe personality types and traits that have always existed. A certain kind of boy has always had trouble paying attention in school. A certain kind of boy has always picked fights with friends, gone smoking in the woods and floated down the river on rafts.
Tom turns out OK, Applebaum points out. Huck Finn, who runs away from his foster home, plans to head out to “Indian territory” when “sivilization” gets to be too much for him.
There’s a lot less leeway these days for impulsive, fidgety, reckless boys, writes Applebaum, the mother of two boys.
These days Tom and Huck would be on Ritalin. And Aunt Polly would be on Prozac.