The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Novel Summary: Chapter 22 - 25

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Chapter 22
At the school, "Examination" day is approaching, when pupils recite poems, famous speeches and essays, and give other displays of their learning, in front of an audience of parents and other townspeople. The teacher, Mr Dobbins, is keen to make the school look good, and so he becomes more tyrannous as the day approaches, giving lashings for the smallest misdemeanor. With the help of the son of a local sign-painter, the pupils hatch a plot to avenge themselves on Mr Dobbins. The plot will be the easier to carry out because Mr Dobbins usually gets slightly drunk before the Examination day event and dozes in his chair.
The big day arrives. Tom launches confidently into a recitation of the politician Patrick Henry's speech of 1775, "Give me liberty or give me death," urging the colony of Virginia to join the War of Independence from Great Britain. He soon gives way to stage-fright and retires defeated. Some of the girls read their compositions, which are uniformly tedious, sentimental and pious, and contain a forced moral for the edification of the reader or listener.
Mr Dobbins rises from his chair and, with a hand made shaky by drink, draws a map of America in order to test the geography class. Suddenly, a cat is lowered on a string from the ceiling. When she is just above Mr Dobbins' head, she grabs his wig with her claws and pulls it off. This reveals his bald head, which the sign-painter's son has painted gold while he was sleeping. The event breaks up amid much mirth. The vacation has begun.
Chapter 23
Tom joins the Cadets of Temperance because of their showy regalia, promising to abstain from smoking and chewing tobacco and profanity. This has the effect of making him desperate to do those things. He is only kept in the Cadets by the thought that Judge Frazer is about to die and his funeral will provide an opportunity to wear the uniform in public. When Judge Frazer recovers, Tom resigns. That night, the Judge suffers a relapse and dies. Now that Tom is free to drink and swear again, he loses the desire to do so.
Even the much-coveted vacation soon becomes boring for Tom. Various entertainers come to St Petersburg and leave again. Becky has gone away with her parents. Tom begins to suffer pangs of conscience once more about the murder. Then he gets the measles. Two weeks later, he recovers enough to go out, and finds that a religious revival has swept through the town, and everybody had "got religion." His friends have become depressingly pious, and even Huck quotes scripture at him.
That night, there is a storm, and Tom feels that God is wreaking his wrath upon him. When the storm dies down, Tom's first impulse is to reform, but then he decides to wait, as there may not be any more storms. Next day, Tom has a relapse. By the time he recovers, his friends have forgotten about religion and have reverted to their former ways.
Chapter 24
The trial for the murder of Dr Robinson is being held. Tom's guilty conscience is bothering him more and more. Even innocent remarks from other people make him wonder if they are aware that he knows more than he claims. He asks Huck if he has told anyone what they know. Huck says he has not, and if he had, Tom would not still be alive. They swear their oath to remain silent once more, and try to appease their consciences by continuing to take gifts of tobacco and matches to Muff Potter in jail. His gratitude only makes them feel even more guilty.
At the end of the second day of the trial, reports say that Injun Joe's evidence still stands firm and unchallenged, and a guilty verdict against Muff Potter is certain.
On the third day of the trial, a witness is called who saw Potter washing in the stream and quickly sneaking away on the morning the murder was discovered. The next witness proves the finding of Potter's knife near the corpse. As the witnesses appear one after the other, all seeming to show Potter's guilt, his lawyer declines to cross-examine any of them, causing the audience to become annoyed at his apparent lack of effort. Potter seems to be in despair. Finally, Potter's lawyer calls Tom to the witness stand, and he is sworn in. Though Tom is at first terrified at the sight of Injun Joe, he hits his stride and tells of what he saw that night in the graveyard. Just as he gets to the part where Injun Joe leaps at Dr Robinson with Muff Potter's knife, Injun Joe escapes through the courtroom window.
Chapter 25
After giving evidence that frees Muff Potter, Tom becomes a local hero for the second time. The townspeople believe he will either be President or be hanged. Muff Potter is taken back into the town's affections.
However, with Injun Joe still on the run, Tom is now terrified for his life. He has horrific dreams and will not go out after dark. Huck too is afraid that his part in the affair might leak out, though Injun Joe's flight from court has prevented him from being forced to give evidence. A search is launched for Injun Joe, and a detective is even brought in, but without success.
Analysis of Chapters 22-25
"Examination" day provides an opportunity for Twain to satirize authority figures. Just as in the Sunday school scene (Chapter 4), where everyone, including children, teachers and Judge Thatcher himself "showed off," Twain uses the universal human trait of vanity as the great leveler, uniting those at the top and bottom of the authority scale. He shows that nobody is ultimately more important than anyone else, however inflated their self-image.
Earlier, we have seen that Mr Dobbins secretly scorns his position as a schoolteacher, feeling that he should really be a doctor. This shows that he wants to be something he is not - a dangerous trait in Twain's writings and one that invariably demands that the person must be revealed for who he is, with all the accompanying shame. In Chapter 22, Mr Dobbins' desire for the school to "make a good showing," along with his penchant for drink, is his downfall. He cracks down hard on the children, who gain their revenge by lowering a cat onto his head. The cat pulls off his wig and exposes his bald head, which has been painted gold while he was in a drunken stupor. In fact, he presides over Examination day while still drunk, which calls into question his assumption of moral authority over the children.
The Examination day fiasco also provides Twain with the chance to satirize the painfully pretentious compositions by the schoolgirls. He singles out for special ridicule the forced moral contained in each composition. Again, Twain deflates hollow claims to moral superiority.
Adding the force of reality to his satire, Twain claims that the compositions are not invented by him but "are taken without alteration from a volume entitled Prose and Poetry by a Western Lady, but they are exactly and precisely after the school-girl pattern." Some critics see this comment and the section as a whole as misogynistic, as all the writers in question are girls, but this misses the point that the education of the time made a distinction between what was deemed acceptable for girls to read and write and what was deemed suitable for boys. Girls were encouraged to assume the role of moral guardians of family values and to read and write "improving" material, a role which these girls are enthusiastically embracing.
One of Twain's recurrent satiric targets is the perverse quality of human nature that finds overwhelmingly attractive those things that are forbidden or hard-to-attain. When those things are no longer forbidden or out of reach, they no longer seem attractive. Tom resigns from the Cadets because he is tormented by a desire to do all the things that are forbidden by the order, but when he is free to do them, he no longer wishes to. Earlier examples are Joe losing his desire to swim on the island, where there is no one to tell him he should not; and Tom getting other children to beg to do his whitewashing, a chore which he renders desirable by recasting it as a rare privilege.
Just as things that one is not allowed to do become attractive, so things that one has to do become unwanted drudgery. As Twain points out in Chapter 2: ". work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and. play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."
Another target of Twain's humorous satire is the fickleness of people's religious beliefs. The town 'catches' religion just as Tom catches measles, and is under its spell for about the same amount of time. Even Tom, who resents his friends' unaccustomed piety, falls victim to it himself, becoming convinced that the storm is God punishing him for keeping quiet about the murder. As soon as the storm is over, however, Tom puts off his plans to reform. He subsequently relapses, leaving open the question of whether divine wrath is active in this case.
Tom's decision to give evidence against Injun Joe in spite of his fear for his life shows his moral growth. This has been foreshadowed in his heroic defense of Becky in the classroom, though the altruism of this act was slightly tempered by the element of self-interest - his desire to win Becky. In this case, Tom stands to gain nothing but mortal danger in return for his courageous act. He does it purely because it is right to tell the truth to protect an innocent man.
Though Tom has achieved an important step in maturity, he is still terribly afraid of Injun Joe. A further resolution will have to occur before this narrative thread can come to its conclusion.


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