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Why Jerry Is the Villain and Not Tom

Cartoonist and cartoon historian, Koriander seeks to preserve the magic of animation.

why-jerry-is-the-villain-and-not-tom

Jerry Is an Instigator

Because Tom is fantastically larger than Jerry, and because Tom lets his temper take him into violent territory, Tom is usually seen as the villain, but make no mistake here. In most Tom and Jerry cartoons, Tom is actually the victim, not Jerry.

How could this be so, when we see such a large, mean cat trying to exterminate such a tiny, cute mouse?

Simple. Tom is a victim of gaslighting, manipulation, and abuse. It's seldom that Tom is seen picking a fight with Jerry unprovoked.

In the 1944 short The Million Dollar Cat, Tom inherits a fortune, provided he never harms another creature ever again. He makes good on that promise, and really just wants to enjoy his fortune and live his life in peace.

Jerry breaks into Tom's new apartment, eats all of his food, and antagonizes Tom to the point that he is willing to give up all of his inheritance just to get rid of Jerry. Jerry drives Tom back into poverty, and Tom didn't do anything to earn this.

In many cartoons, Jerry is an invasive pest, boring holes into the walls of Tom's owner and stealing food. Tom is usually enlisted by his owner (Often Mammy Two Shoes) to catch Jerry, and anytime Jerry breaks something, he makes it look like Tom did it, and Tom ends up being beaten for things Jerry has done.

Like an internet troll, the 1949 short Jerry's Diary sees Jerry writing a tell-all book, slandering and mocking Tom while also bragging about every instance where he got Tom abused or gaslit Tom into bad situations.

It gets more devious. When Tom confronts Jerry about the slanderous book, Jerry sends Tom into a guilt trip with a cut of the royalties, provided of course that Tom find the humor in Jerry driving him mad. Jerry uses a royalty check to control Tom.

Jerry often invites himself onto Tom's dates, sabotaging his romantic escapades by either warming up to Tom's newest girlfriend or by convincing Tom's girlfriend to drop Tom for Butch. Even off the clock, Tom can't catch a break.

Even Tom's leisure time is usually uprooted by Jerry. In the 1951 short Cat Napping, all poor Tom wants to do is sleep. He doesn't want to bother with Jerry, he doesn't want to hurt anyone, he just wants to enjoy a nice nap in the sun.

Jerry uses this as a chance to kick Tom out of his own hammock, and when he can't take the hammock for himself, Jerry tries to destroy it with a pair of scissors.

why-jerry-is-the-villain-and-not-tom

Jerry Is Selfish

Aside from instigating fights with Tom, Jerry is also a major thief.

In many shorts, Jerry can be seen stealing food out of the refrigerator, swiping food from the cupboard, and even drinking all the milk and cream out of Tom's bowl, right in front of Tom.

It's often baffling when Jerry is marketed as being "adorable" or "helpless" when there are so many shorts where he is using his wits and whatever appliances are at hand to thieve food.

You could argue that in some instances, he is merely trying to feed his ward Nibbles (Or Tuffy as he's been known as since the 1970s), but that hardly works when there are some cartoons where we see that Jerry has his own appliances, including a mouse-sized, working refrigerator. That's right, Jerry doesn't even need to steal food for himself or for his ward. He chooses to do it anyway for the thrill.

The portions he steals are laughably large. A few times, both he and Nibbles have been seen devouring portions even too much for Tom, so not only is Jerry incredibly selfish, he's teaching his ward to be just as thoughtless.

why-jerry-is-the-villain-and-not-tom

Jerry Is More Racist Than Tom

With the exception of 1949's The Little Orphan where he dressed up like a Native American, and 1951's Casanova Cat where Tom inked up Jerry's face with smoke, Tom doesn't intentionally try to do anything racist.

If you are able to find the uncut cartoons, every single time Tom is ever seen in blackface, it's always been accidental. An oven blows up, a firecracker goes off, mud is splashed, and suddenly Tom is seen in horrifically racist makeup. But these events are accidental. It's still horrible and racist, but Tom isn't doing it on purpose, and he always wipes it off before the next scene or runs away embarrassed.

The same is not always said for Jerry, though he has been on the receiving end off the accidental minstrel gag too.

1946's The Milky Waif has a usually censored scene where Jerry hides Nibbles under a cabinet. While under there, he puts on brown face paint and rags, and (while temporarily voiced by Mammy Two Shoes's first actress Linda Randolph) re-emerges acting like a Mammy stereotype, totally in blackface.

Worse? He's painted Nibbles in black shoe polish and taught him how to put on blackface makeup, and he is having him toddle around as "Honey Child" until his diaper slips and Tom realizes it's them.

Jerry is actually so much of an instigator that he taught a toddler how to put on blackface. That's despicable.

1948's Kitty Foiled has a segment where Jerry dresses up as a Native American mother and uses stereotypical language in a failed attempt to fool Tom. There's no reason for the gag. All he has to do is help his canary friend escape from Tom, and yet there he is, acting racist out of context.

But the worst and most racist thing Jerry has ever done comes in the 1951 short His Mouse Friday, one of the few shorts where Tom is actually the one who starts the fight. In this short, Tom is shipwrecked and ends up on what he thinks is a deserted island. Starving, he chases Jerry into a village created by cannibals.

Rather than keep running, knowing Tom is already tired, Jerry decides to use dirt from a kettle to put on blackface, and then while speaking in a made-up language, Jerry mentally tortures Tom, then tries to cook Tom alive before both are chased away by the incredibly stereotypical cannibals, who themselves want to eat both Tom and Jerry.

Jerry's antics were deemed so inexcusable that the nearly seven-minute short has not been on television in the United States for generations. It is possible to find select edits of the print on DVD and occasionally on YouTube, but as of this writing, the short is one of several missing on HBO Max.

Jerry may be cute, funny, and very easy on the ears in his few speaking scenes, but overall, he really is a pest at heart. So the next time you sit down to enjoy a Tom and Jerry cartoon or movie, you may just find yourself more on Tom's side than Jerry's.

© 2021 Koriander Bullard

Comments

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on March 19, 2021:

Interesting...i had never thought of it this way.

One of my favorites.

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