Focusing on the minor details of suffering cats, I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as an exemplary illustration of the way in which American novels of individual development destabilize around the movement of minor bodies and minor characters. This destabilization allows not only an interrogation of the limits of US citizenship but also an exploration of how narratives may register something in excess of the citizen and the subject. Distinguishing between the antebellum (boy) characters’ violent play with cats and the postbellum narrator’s ludic play as cat, I argue that cats emerge in Tom Sawyer as captive bodies (among many hard-to-see captives). In the constrained but spectacular movements of these captive bodies, the novel troubles the particularly American freedom actualized in Tom’s play and gestures to a fugitive or feral movement that, though necessary to Tom’s development, always leaps beyond and in the way of efforts to produce a free, individual subject.

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