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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
This chapter takes the story of Tom's Saturday from late afternoon to bedtime. Its episodic structure-seven episodes strung together-reflects the structure of the entire novel. A close look at the way the episodic pattern works in this chapter will help you understand the way the novel is structured.
Tom reports "his" fence-painting success to Aunt Polly, who examines the work to make sure he's telling the truth. When she discovers the job done, she turns a compliment into a lesson: "You can work when you're a mind to, Tom." She even delivers his reward-an apple-with a quote from the Bible. This lesson misses its mark, too. As she talks about the value of getting something "without sin through virtuous effort," Tom steals a doughnut.
NOTE: POLLY'S HOUSE
Twain's description of Polly's house is a clue that he is thinking
of the house he lived in as a boy in Hannibal. The Clemens house still
exists and can be visited, as can the house across the street, which belonged
to Elijah Hawkins. The Hawkins house is mentioned later in this chapter
as the Thatcher house.
Outside, Tom settles a score with Sid by clobbering him with clods of dirt. Polly rescues Sid, and Tom leaps the fence, in too much of a hurry to use the gate.
Tom and his friend Joe Harper lead opposing "armies" of boys in a mock battle in the village square. Tom's army wins a "great victory."
NOTE: TOM'S GENERALSHIP
Whenever Tom is with other boys, he takes a leadership role. Often, as here, the role is a romantic one. What does this tell you about Tom's character? Does he have a need to manipulate others? Or does his love of being in the spotlight as a heroic figure prompt him to devise ways to gain attention?
Tom passes Jeff Thatcher's house and spots a "lovely little blue- eyed creature with yellow hair." She is Becky Thatcher, although Twain doesn't reveal her name here. Tom is so taken by this pretty stranger that he forgets his former love, Amy Lawrence, and begins showing off in front of Becky. Playing her part in this courting ritual, Becky tosses a pansy to Tom as she disappears into the house. Tom remains in front of her house until nightfall, still showing off.
Tom's spirits are so high at supper that his aunt's scolding doesn't faze him. Sid accidentally breaks the sugar bowl, and Tom can't wait to see his good brother punished. Polly assumes Tom broke the bowl, however, and knocks him down.
She is conscience-struck when she realizes she hit the wrong person. Yet as a figure of authority, she can't bring herself to admit she was wrong. Tom, in a sulk, refuses to allow her to make up to him. He fantasizes revenge: lying on his deathbed, he refuses to forgive her; drowned, he does not come to life when Polly begs God to "give her back her boy." These fantasies foreshadow the adventures that will take place in chapters 15 and 17.
NOTE: EMOTIONAL INSIGHTS
Take a second look at the paragraph that describes Tom's sulking. This wonderful passage shows Twain once more making good use of nostalgia. More importantly, it gives you a chance to appreciate Twain's understanding of human emotions-Tom's and Polly's-and his willingness to indulge Tom's feelings of self-pity. Most children have had the kind of emotional tug-of-war that Tom has with Polly. Most also have fantasies of the "she'll-be-sorry" type. Twain appeals to your sense of nostalgia with his perfect description of Tom's swallowing his tears. But he goes beyond that. He shows Tom actually enjoying his unhappiness.
Sitting on a raft and wishing he were dead, Tom remembers Becky's flower. He goes to her house, lost in self-pity, and lies beneath her window. He clasps the pansy to his chest as if he were a corpse. Just as he envisions her dropping "one little tear upon his poor lifeless form," a maid opens the window and pours a pitcher of water on him. He runs home.
Tom examines his wet clothes by candlelight before going to bed. Sid wakes up and sees Tom but thinks better of saying anything.