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The major theme of the novel is "appearance and reality" or "image and identity." The protagonists of the novel fail to establish their identities and are instead recognized only through the images they present. Tom Canty is accepted as a prince because he looks like one, while Edward Tudor is thought to be a pauper, since he is dressed in rags.
Two other Themes are also present in the novel, "environmental determinism" and "progressiveness of history." Mark Twain firmly believed that environment was responsible for the behavior of a person and that with the progress of time individuals and society changed for the better.
Edward is born a prince and Tom a pauper. However, when they are forced by circumstances to reverse their roles, they behave accordingly. Edward learns to lead the life of a pauper, and Tom molds himself to the life of a prince. Environment, slowly and steadily, determines their attitudes and behavior. Edward develops a moral sense through suffering, while Tom loses a similar moral sense through luxury.
The prevailing mood of the novel is serious, as the story is set in sixteenth-century England, under the reign of the autocratic ruler, Henry VIII. However, Mark Twain lightens the atmosphere of the novel considerably with his masterstrokes of irony, creating humorous scenes and eccentric characters to amuse and entertain readers.