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


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Novel Summary: Chapter 4 - 6

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Chapter 4
It is Sunday. Tom, helped by his cousin, Mary, is struggling to learn some scriptures for Sunday school. Tom finally manages to learn the verses after Mary promises to give him "something ever so nice." Her present turns out to be a pocket knife, which delights Tom. Under pressure from Mary, Tom reluctantly washes his face and puts on his best clothes. He sets out for Sunday school with Mary and Sid.
At Sunday school, Tom trades some of his treasures with other boys in return for the colored tickets that are earned from the teacher for memorizing scriptures. When a pupil has learned two thousand scriptures, he or she will have earned enough tickets to exchange for a Bible, which is ceremoniously awarded in front of the rest of the class.
Judge Thatcher, accompanied by his wife and daughter Becky, visits the Sunday school class. Tom begins to show off, making faces and pulling people's hair, to attract Becky's attention. The Sunday school teacher, Mr Walters, and his assistants show off, in order to impress the visitors. The young lady teachers bend "sweetly over pupils that were lately being boxed" and the men dispense displays of authority. Judge Thatcher too shows off by looking grand.
Mr Walters longs for the opportunity to award a Bible and "exhibit a prodigy." At that moment, Tom comes forward with the colored tickets he has gained by bartering with the other pupils, and asks for a Bible. Mr Walters is astonished, as he knows that Tom cannot have memorized the necessary verses, but he cannot argue with the fact that Tom has enough tickets, and in any case, he wants to impress the Judge. Tom is introduced to the Judge and given a place of honor with his party. The other boys are envious - especially those who gave up their tickets to Tom. Amy Lawrence, Tom's former love, tries to get Tom to meet her adoring gaze, but he will not look at her, which upsets her greatly.
Judge Thatcher makes an effusive speech, predicting that Tom will one day be "a great man and a good man," and that he will look back and credit his Sunday school teachers, who taught him to learn. The Judge asks Tom to show off more of his learning by naming the first two disciples to follow Jesus. Naturally, Tom has no clue, and answers with the first Biblical names that come to mind, David and Goliath.
Chapter 5
Sunday school is followed by church. The minister delivers a tedious sermon that makes many of the congregation fall asleep. Tom is thoroughly bored, but his attention is momentarily drawn by a Biblical prediction that at the millennium (the thousand-year period when, according to Christian belief, Christ would reign on earth) the lion and the lamb would lie down together and a little child would lead them. Tom is attracted to the idea of the fame that would be enjoyed by such a child, and "he wished he could be that child, if it was a tame lion."
Tom lapses back into boredom and takes out a pinch-bug (a beetle) that he keeps in a box. The bug pinches Tom, who flicks it into the aisle, where it flounders on its back. Not only Tom, but others in the congregation, find the antics of the bug more interesting than the sermon. A poodle wanders in and begins to play with the bug, which pinches the dog. The onlookers begin to laugh behind their fans and handkerchiefs. Finally, the poodle inadvertently sits on the bug, which latches onto the dog. The dog takes off around the church, yelping, until it is thrown out of the window by its owner.
By now, many members of the congregation are red-faced with suppressed laughter and all attempts at serious sentiment in the sermon only serve to increase the mirth. Tom walks home, pleased at the diversion, but slightly resenting the dog for carrying away the pinch-bug.
Chapter 6
On Monday, Tom wakes, wishing he were sick so that he would not have to go to school. He pretends that he has a sore toe, but Aunt Polly does not believe him. He changes his story, claiming that he has an ache in a loose tooth. Aunt Polly says she will pull it out, which prompts Tom to say that it has suddenly stopped hurting. Aunt Polly pulls out the tooth anyway and sends Tom to school. Tom is consoled by his discovery that the gap in his teeth enables him to spit wonderfully.
On his way to school, Tom meets Huckleberry Finn, the son of the town drunkard and "the juvenile pariah of the village." Huck, who has no parental authority to keep him in line, is hated by the mothers of the town because he is lawless - and loved and admired by the children for the same reason. Tom is under orders not to play with him, "So he played with him every time he got a chance." Huck is always dressed in the rags of cast-off adult clothes.
Tom and Huck discuss the best folk remedies to cure warts. Huck has with him a dead cat, and he plans to take it to the graveyard that night and use it in one of the wart charms. A folk tradition says that when the devil comes to collect the corpse of a wicked person, the dead cat will follow the corpse, and the warts will follow the cat, and vanish. A local man, Hoss Williams, has recently been buried, and the boys think he may be suitable bait for the devil. Tom arranges to go with Huck to the graveyard.
Tom arrives late to school, and the teacher demands an explanation. Tom is about to lie when he notices that there is a spare seat next to Becky. He knows that if he tells the truth, he will be punished by being made to sit with the girls. So he says boldly, "I stopped to talk with Huckleberry Finn!" The shocked teacher whips Tom and sends him to sit next to Becky, to his delight. Becky at first snubs him, but he gets her attention by giving her a peach and drawing a picture on his slate. When Becky praises the picture, Tom offers to teach her to draw in the lunch hour. She agrees. Tom writes, "I love you" on his slate. The teacher grabs him and drags him back to his usual seat.
Analysis of Chapters 4-6
In Chapter 4's Sunday school scene, Twain gently satirizes adult vanity and shows that adults are no more mature than children when it comes to showing off for the benefit of those we want to impress. Just as Tom shows off to impress Becky, so the Sunday school teachers show off to impress Judge Thatcher and the other visitors. Even Judge Thatcher shows off, trying to look grand. Tom is able to exploit the vanity of Mr Walters, the teacher, when he presents the tickets he has won from other pupils and demands his reward of a Bible. Perhaps if Mr Walters were not desperate to impress the eminent visitors, he would have investigated Tom's right to the Bible more carefully. But his chief concern is to "exhibit a prodigy," and so Tom gets away with his deception. The teacher's aim here is not to contribute to Tom's spiritual and moral growth, but to gain glory for himself.
Another target of Twain's good-natured satire is the dubious tradition of memorizing scriptures in the name of producing morally upstanding citizens. Tom buys his Bible-earning tickets not by the diligent learning of scriptures but fraudulently, with "treasures" - that is, bits of trash. Even honest students are miserably rewarded for their labors. The reward for learning a massive two thousand verses is "a very plainly bound Bible" worth only forty cents. Mary has won two Bibles this way; what use, we may wonder, are two Bibles? Twain pokes fun at the type of child who excels at this seemingly pointless activity: a boy "of German parentage" won four of five, "but the strain on his mental faculties was too great, and he was little better than an idiot from that day forth."
The satirical nail is driven home by Judge Thatcher's well-meaning but ludicrously inflated pronouncement: "you'll be a great man and a good man yourself some day, Thomas, and then you'll look back and say, It's all owing to the precious Sunday-school privileges of my boyhood; it's all owing to my dear teachers that taught me to learn; it's all owing to the good Superintendent, who encouraged me and watched over me, and gave me a beautiful Bible. to keep and have it all for my own, always; it's all owing to right bringing up!" The reader knows that Tom did not earn his Bible from learning scriptures. Even if he had, the reader is likely to be skeptical of the notion that any success that he later enjoyed could be ascribed to parroting scriptures as a child. After all, we have the example of the poor German boy to make us doubt whether any benefits can be derived from such practices.
Twain continues to satirize the cultural and religious rituals that bind small communities together in the church service scene in Chapter 5. The adults are as bored by the sermon as is Tom, and they begin to fall asleep. They are much more interested in the activities of Tom, the pinch-bug, and the poodle, but dare not admit it, and must smother their mirth.
A major character is introduced in this section, Huckleberry Finn. A symbol of the absolute freedom that lack of parental authority brings, he is hated by the mothers of the town and admired by the children. He does not have to do any of the irksome things that the other children are forced to: go to school, attend church and Sunday school, and work. He can do what he likes, when he likes. He wears cast-off adult clothes, which are suggestive of the fact that he is his own boss.
Like the adults with their faith in the ritual of learning scriptures, the children have their own rituals and beliefs, as is plain in the conversation between Huck and Tom about charms and folk remedies for warts. The superstitions involved are extremely detailed and complex, to the extent that there will always be an apparently rational excuse to explain away failure. Bob Tanner, "the wartiest boy in town," tried the "spunk-water" cure (rainwater scooped from a tree trunk) but it did not work. Tom explains its failure by suggesting that Bob forgot to say the ritual words at the stump and to keep silent on the way home.


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