Tom’s role as a romantic is extremely important because of its juxtaposition with Huck’s literal approach. Although Tom declares that his gang will pursue the exploits of piracy and murder, in reality the gang succeeds in “charging down on hog-drovers and women in carts taking garden stuff to the market.” The vision of the young boys disrupting women bound for the market provides much of the harmless humor during the early pages of Huck Finn, and Tom is largely responsible for the slapstick approach. Tom’s constant barrage of exaggeration, however, contrasts with Huck’s deadpan narration, and Huck can “see no profit” in Tom’s methods. Where Huck is practical, Tom is emotional; where Huck is logical, Tom is extravagant. Despite the fact that readers easily recognize Tom’s ideas as folly, Huck does not question Tom’s authority. On the contrary, Huck believes that Tom’s knowledge is above his own, and this includes Tom’s attitude toward slavery.
In a sense, Tom represents the civilized society that Huck and Jim leave behind on their flight down the river. When Tom reappears with his fancied notions of escape from the Phelps farm, Jim again becomes a gullible slave and Huck becomes a simple agent to Tom. There is no doubt that Tom is intelligent, and he does state that they will free Jim immediately if there is trouble, but the ensuing ruse suggests that Tom is unable to shake society and the Romantic idealism he possesses, even when Jim’s freedom is at stake.