Barefoot Boys: Literature

Figure 2.--Huck & Tom. Here again, Tom Sawyer, on the right, is depicted as dressed in a very stylish, short 1840's roundabout jacket, with a white, broad collared shirt, and well kept trousers with "mule ear" style pockets. He is wearing a small straw hat which is in good condition. His trousers are rolled up at "just the right length" for him to give the impression that he's a 12 year old "grown-up" (i.e. knee pants were for "little" kids). His compatriot, Huckleberry Finn (age 14?) is as Twain described him, wearing oversized men's garments including a dilapidated men's frock coat, ripped oversized trousers, and a well worn "slouch" hat. Thus, Huck shows true evidence of his impovershed state (though an enviable one-at least as far as his playmates were concerned!).

Literary works provide useful informstion on perid dress. Of course fiction works are not definitive informztion, but books written in contemporary times or authors who lived in the times in which their story is set can provide some very useful information. This is because the books address topics beyond photographs. Books often tell us about a range of social conventions. As concerns going barefoot, literary wortks can address topics like what the children thought about going barefoot. Photographs of course are mute. We can guess about conventions, but such assessments are not definitive. Of course poverty was a major factor in children going bsrefoot, but it was not the only factor. We will srchive here any information that we can find from literary works.

(The) Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain described both Tom and Huck going bsrefoot. "He hoped that Mary would forget his shoes, but the hope was blighted; she coated them thoroughly with tallow, as was the custom, and brought them out. He lost his temper and said he was always being made to do everything he didn't want to do." [Twain]


A reader writes to us about children going barefoot in mountain places. This once was quite common, in part because children from these areas were rather poor. Examples were Switzerland and Austria (Tyrol). Our rader writes, "Still today folk costumes are sometime worn with bare feet: Tyrol and Switzerland. I think that this was both an economic and comfort matter. These mountain people were often very poor and so they could save the footwear during the summer. On the other hand, these children were forced to wear uncomfortable boots during many months, so they liked to go with free feet in warm weather. We have an example in the novel Heidi by Johanna Spyri when the girl, arriving from the town, meets the little shepherd Peter: "She said nothing, but her little eyes kept watching first Peter, as he sprang nimbly hither and thither on his bare feet, clad only in his short light breeches, and then the slim-legged goats that went leaping over rocks and shrubs and up the steep ascents with even greater ease. All at once she sat herself down on the ground, and as fast as her little fingers could move, began pulling off her shoes and stockings. This done she rose, unwound the hot red shawl and threw it away, and then proceeded to undo her frock... and then she went jumping and climbing up after Peter and the goats as nimbly as any one of the party." (Chapter 1). The novel is set in Canton Grigioni, Switzerland.


Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, chapter 4.


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Created: July 24, 2002
Last updated: Augusr 18, 2002