Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. He skips school to swim and is made to whitewash the fence the next day as punishment. He cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work.
Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get "engaged" by kissing him.
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"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!"
The old lady puffed her spectacles down and looked over them and about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for "style," not service-she could have seen through a pair of stovelids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll--"
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat.
"I never did see the beat of that boy!"
She went to the open door and stood in it and looked out among the tomato vines and "jimpson" weeds that constituted the garden. No Tom. So she lifted up her voice at an angle calculated for distance and shouted:
There was a slight noise behind her and she turned just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his roundabout and arrest his flight.
"There! I might 'a' thought of that closet. What you been doing in there?"
"Nothing! Look at your hands. And look at your mouth. What is that truck?"
"I don't know, aunt."
"Well, I know. It's jam-that's what it is. Forty times I've said if you didn't let that jam alone I'd skin you. Hand me that switch."
The switch hovered in theair-the peril was desperate
"My! Look behind you, aunt!"
The old lady whirled round, and snatched her skirts out of danger, The lad fled on the instant, scrambled up the high board fence, and disappeared over it.
His aunt Polly stood surprised a moment, and then broke into a gentle laugh.
"Hang the boy, can't I never learn anything? Ain't he played me tricks enough like that for me to be looking out for him by this time? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. Can't learn an old dog new tricks, as the saying is, But my goodness, he never plays them alike, two days, and how is a body to know what's coming? He 'pears to know just how long he can torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows if he can make out to put me off for a minute or make me laugh, it's A down again and I can't hit him a tick. I ain't doing my duty by that boy, and that's the Lord's truth, goodness knows, Spare the rod and spile the child, as the Good Book says. I'm a laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know. He's full of the Old Scratch, but laws-a-me! he's my own dead sister's boy, poor thing, and I ain't got the heart to lash him, somehow. Every time I let him off, my conscience does hurt me so, and every time I hit him my old heart breaks. Well-a-well, man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble, as the Scripture says, and I reckon it's so. He'll play hockey this evening,* and I'll just be obleeged to make him work, to-morrow, to punish him, It's mighty hard to make him work Saturdays, when all the boys is having holiday, but he hates work more than he hates anything else, and Ive got to do some of my duty by him, or I'll be the ruination of the child."
Tom did play hookey, and he had a very good time. He got back home barely in season to help Jim, the small colored boy, saw next-day's wood and split the kindlings before supper-at least he was there in time to tell his adventures to Jim while Jim did three-fourths of the work. Torn's younger brother (or rather half-brother) Sid was already through with his part of the work (picking up chips), for he was a quiet boy, and he had no adventurous, troublesome ways.
While Tom was eating his supper, and stealing sugar as opportunity offered, Aunt Polly asked him questions that were full of guile, and very deep-for she wanted to trap him into damaging revealments. Like many other simple-hearted souls, it was her pet vanity to believe she was endowed with a talent for dark and mysterious diplomacy, and she loved to contemplate her most transparent devices as marvels of tow cunning. Said she:
"Tom, it was middling warm in school, warn't it?"
"Powerful warm, warn't it?"
"Didn't you want to go in a-swimming, Tom?"
A bit of a scare shot through Tom--a touch of uncomfortable suspicion. He searched Aunt Polly's face, but it told him nothing. So he said:
"No'm--well, not very much."
The old lady reached out her hand and felt Tom's shirt, and said:
"But you ain't too warm now, though." And it flattered her to reflect that she had discovered that the shirt was dry without anybody knowing that that was what she had in her mind. But in spite of tier, Tom knew where the wind lay, now. So he forestalled what might be the next move:
"Some of us pumped on our hcads--mine's damp yet. Sec?"
Aunt Polly was vexed to think she had overlooked that bit of circumstantial evidence, and missed a trickThen she had a new inspiration:
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
Mark Twain: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text and Illustrations
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Appendix A: Composition, Marketing, and Reviews of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
1. Composition a. From Twain’s “Boy’s Manuscript” (c. 1870)
b. From “Unpublished Chapters from the Autobiography of Mark Twain,” Harper's Monthly Magazine (August 1922)
c. The Tom Sawyer manuscript d. Twain’s Correspondence with William Dean Howells (1875-76)
2. Marketing: Advertisement of Subscription Books (1876)
3. Contemporary Reviews a. William Dean Howells, Atlantic Monthly (May 1876)
b. Anonymous, New York World (1 January 1877)
c. Anonymous, New York Times (13 January 1877)
Appendix B: Twain’s Memories of Hannibal
1. Letter to Will Bowen (6 February 1870)
2. Hannibal in 1848
3. From Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)
4. From Twain, “Chapters from My Autobiography,” North American Review (2 November 1906)
5. From Twain, “Villagers of 1840-43” (1897)
6. Slavery in Hannibal a. From Twain, “Chapters from My Autobiography,” North American Review (1 March 1907)
b. Advertisement for Slaves (1848)
Appendix C: Bad Boys and Boy Books
1. Bad Boys a. From B.P. Shillaber, Mrs. Partington’s Knitting Work, and what was done by her plaguy boy Ike (1880)
b. From Twain, “The Story of the Bad Little Boy” (1865)
2. Boy Books a. From Thomas Bailey Aldrich, The Story of a Bad Boy (1869)
b. From Charles Dudley Warner, Being a Boy (1877)
c. From William Dean Howells, A Boy’s Town (1890)
Appendix D: A Small-Town American Childhood in the 1840s
1. School a. From McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book (1846)
b. From the Friends Infant School (1838)
2. Sunday School a. From “The Sunday-School Child” (1845)
b. From “The glass of whiskey” (1845)
3. The Temperance Movement: Announcement in the Hannibal Gazette (17 June 1846)
4. Games: From The Boy’s Story Book for Winter Evenings (1838)
5. The Circus: Advertisement in the Hannibal Gazette (October 1847)
6. The Minstrel Show a. Song from “Bone Squash Diavolo” (1835)
b. Dialogue, “Mosquitoes” (1902)
7. Reading a. Lawrence Lovechild, “The Deceitful Little Boy” (1840)
b. From Samuel Griswold Goodrich (“Peter Parley”), “Bill Vacant and Henry Hawkseye,” Robert Merry's Annual, for all seasons (1840)
c. From Jacob Abbott, Rollo Learning to Read (1855)
d. From Stephen Percy, Robin Hood and His Merry Foresters (1845)
e. From Ned Buntline, The Black Avenger, Story of the Spanish Main, The Weekly Novelette (1859)
What People are Saying About This
"Twain had a greater effect than any other writer on the evolution of American prose."
Reading Group Guide
1. In his preface, Mark Twain remarks that "Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves. . . ." Do you think Twain succeeds in this "plan"? Discuss the ways in which Tom Sawyer can be read by both children and adults-do different aspects of the book appeal to different kinds of readers? Are different episodes designed, as some critics have suggested, to appeal to different audiences?
2. How does Tom Sawyer relate to the world of adult authority and responsibility? Can he be said to "mature" during the course of the novel, as critics have asserted? If so in what ways?
3. Discuss the town of St. Petersburg, Mississippi, Tom Sawyer's home. How would you describe it? What literary devices or descriptions, to your mind, make Twain's portrayal of rural American life in the years before the Civil War interesting, unique, appealing?
4. Virginia Wexman notes that in Tom Sawyer "we are confronted with two clearly separate worlds. The first world is a light and engaging one . . . where life is played at . . . the world of Tom himself. . . . But there is another world here too, a darker world where actions have real meaning and real moral consequences-the world of people like Injun Joe and Muff Potter." Discuss each of these "two worlds, " and the ways in which they are related to each other in the novel.
5. Discuss Tom's relationship with Huckleberry Finn, from their first encounter, through their subsequentadventures. What do you make of this friendship? Why are these characters drawn to each other? Compare this relationship with other relationships in the novel, for instance Tom's relationship to Becky Thatcher.
6. Discuss Twain's use of particular geographical settings as scenes for episodes in the novel: the river, the island, the cave. Why do you think these particular landscapes are chosen? How do they inform the action of the novel?
7. Tom Sawyer is one of the most recognizable and revered characters in American literature; as Lyall Powers writes, "Everybody knows Tom's story whether he has actually read the book or not." What do you think accounts for the enduring popularity of Twain's literary creation?