The novel has elements of humor, satire and social criticism – features that later made Mark Twain one of the most important authors of American literature. Mark Twain describes some autobiographical events in the book. The novel's setting of St. Petersburg is based on Twain's actual boyhood home of Hannibal, near St. Louis, and many of the places in it are real and today support a tourist industry as a result.
The concept of boyhood is developed through Tom's actions, including his runaway adventure with Joe and Huckleberry. To help show how mischievous and messy boyhood was, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs shows a picture of a young boy smoking a pipe, sawing furniture, climbing all over the place, and sleeping. In Twain's novel, Tom and his friend are young when they decide they want to learn how to smoke a pipe. Tom and Joe do this to show just how cool they are to the other boys.