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FORM AND STRUCTURE
The novel's title is a clue to its structure. Rather than a tightly plotted story, it is a series of adventures that Twain has strung together chronologically in thirty-five chapters. The novel's episodic form has led some readers to say that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has no plot at all. However, a close look will show you that four loose plot lines help tie the novel together and give it unity.
The first of these four stories involves Tom's courtship of Becky Thatcher. This plot line begins in Chapter 3 and runs, intermittently, all the way to Chapter 35. The main climax of this story comes in Chapter 32, with the couple's escape from McDougal's cave. A less important climax occurs in Chapter 20, when Tom wins Becky's heart.
The second story concerns the framing of Muff Potter for Dr. Robinson's murder. This plot line begins in Chapter 9, has its courtroom climax in Chapter 23, and ends in Chapter 24.
The third story concerns the Jackson's Island episode the boys' running away and their return to witness their own funeral. It begins in Chapter 13, has its climax at the funeral in Chapter 17, and concludes with Chapter 19.
The fourth story traces Injun Joe's fate from the time he flees the courtroom in Chapter 17. The story continues to Chapter 35, where Twain explains how Tom and Huck have been affected by the treasure that Injun Joe found for them. The climax to this plot line occurs in Chapter 33, when the villagers discover Injun Joe's body.
Five chapters (1, 2, 5, 21, and 22) are wholly devoted to adventures that are unrelated to any of the four plot lines. These chapters allow Twain to introduce and develop Tom's character (chapters 1 and 2), describe a church service or a school exercise (chapters 5 and 21), and sum up several weeks in a few pages. By detailing everyday events in these chapters and elsewhere, Twain adds realism to his treatment of life in a Missouri river town before the Civil War.
Readers have pointed to several parallels among the plot lines. For one thing, they all involve deaths-real or imagined. For another, they all end somewhat predictably-two with resurrections, one with a narrow escape from the gallows, and one with a villain's death and the capture of his treasure. Finally, all four stories have the same hero-Tom Sawyer-an orphan who raises himself from near rags to near riches on the strength of his courage and imagination.