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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Twain divides this chapter into two episodes. In the first, you meet Tom's best friend, Joe Harper. The second episode continues the tale of Tom's courtship of Becky Thatcher.
Bored with school, Tom begins to play with the tick that Huck traded him. He devises a game with Joe Harper, who is as intrigued with the bug as Tom is. When the boys argue over the tick, the schoolmaster gets wind of their diversion and whacks them.
During the noon recess, Becky and Tom sneak back into the school. Tom proposes marriage to Becky, who likes the idea of being "engaged" to him. But Tom makes a slip, and Becky realizes that he has been "engaged" before, to Amy Lawrence. Becky refuses to be consoled. Hurt, Tom leaves the school.
Tom's mood jumps from gloom to delight in this chapter. Note how fantasy and play help him rebound from the sadness caused by a real-world disappointment.
Reacting to Becky's rejection, Tom runs through the woods for a half hour. He finds his way to a familiar spot and thinks how liberating death would be-"if he could only die temporarily!" This wish foreshadows the events in Chapter 17, when he attends his own funeral.
He fantasizes becoming a soldier, an Indian chief, and a pirate. What's the point of these fantasies? Are they a kind of revenge- a way of showing "his companions," especially Becky, how dashing a figure they had as a friend? Or is it that projecting himself into romantic situations makes him feel better about himself?
NOTE: BURLESQUE OF ROMANTIC LITERATURE
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is in many ways a burlesque-a takeoff on a literary work or type of work. As already noted, it makes fun of the type of book that shows how good boys (or model boys) prosper. In this chapter's opening paragraph, Tom's brooding appears to many readers as a burlesque of the nineteenth-century convention, in Romantic novels, of the melancholy forest scene. However, Twain uses Tom's imitation of a Romantic hero in another way. Tom's brooding ends with a joke, "if he could only die temporarily!" Here, instead of mocking a literary convention, Twain mocks Tom as well. A good part of the novel's humor comes from this gentle indulgence on the part of the narrator.
Tom's decision to run away and become a pirate energizes him. He tests a superstition about recovering lost marbles and finds it doesn't work. Yet he refuses to lose faith in superstitions. He convinces himself that a witch made his test fail.
The blast of a toy trumpet announces the start of another episode. Joe Harper appears, pretending to be Guy of Guisborne, and Tom transforms himself into Robin Hood for a series of adventures played "by the book."
NOTE: TOM'S LITERARY SOURCES
Tom, like Sam Clemens as a boy, seems to be an avid reader of swashbuckling romances. Earlier in this chapter, while fancying himself a pirate, he shows his familiarity with Ned Buntline's The Black Avenger of the Spanish Main, or the Fiend of Blood, a boys' book published in 1847. The Sherwood Forest adventures that Tom and Joe Harper seem to know by heart come from Joseph Cundall's Robin Hood and His Merry Foresters.