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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
This chapter describes the boys' first full day on Jackson's Island. It is a day of roller-coaster mood swings, especially for Joe and Tom. Notice how plot twists shape the boys' moods and how the moods, in turn, shape the story.
The chapter opens with a long description of the island's animal life "shaking off sleep and going to work." The boys spend most of the day swimming, fishing, and exploring the island. Late in the afternoon, they begin to feel homesick.
The booming of cannon on the ferryboat interrupts their thoughts. They realize that the boat is trying to locate the body of someone who has drowned. (During Twain's youth people believed that the concussion of the cannon blasts were capable of bursting a sunken corpse's gall bladder, causing it to float to the surface.) It's Tom who understands who is thought to have "drownded-it's us!" Nothing more wonderful had ever happened to them. They are the talk of St. Petersburg.
After dinner, however, their thoughts become more somber. Tom and Joe begin to feel guilty about the grief they've caused their families. But when Joe suggests they return home, Tom makes him feel foolish. Tom stays awake after the others fall asleep. He writes two notes on sycamore bark, pockets one, and places the other in Joe's hat. Then he bolts toward the sandbar. What's on his mind?
This chapter explains Tom's secrecy and sets the stage for the next two chapters. It also gives you a glimpse of Tom as a genuinely loving nephew.
Tom wades, then swims to the Illinois shore, where he hides in a rowboat tied to the stern of the ferry and is towed back to Missouri. In St. Petersburg, he sneaks into Polly's house and crawls under her bed in the sitting room. Sid, Polly, Mary, and Joe Harper's mother are at the table, bemoaning the lost children. Their words give Tom a nobler opinion of himself than ever before."
Tom's earlier hope of dying-temporarily-has come true. He hears his former tormentors grieve over him and he's overwhelmed, partly with pride, partly with love for his aunt. He learns that the boys' funerals will be held Sunday morning- four days away.
After Mrs. Harper leaves, Polly goes to bed. Her prayer for Tom is so moving, it makes him cry. She falls asleep, and Tom creeps over to the table, where the candle still burns, and leaves the note he wrote for her. But a thought makes him change his mind. He pockets the note, kisses his sleeping aunt, and exits. He rows back to the Illinois shore and, after sunrise, swims back to Jackson's Island. After recounting his adventures, he sleeps until noon while Huck and Joe play.
NOTE: TOM'S CRAFTINESS
Skillful storytellers build suspense by withholding enough of their stories to keep readers turning pages. Twain does this here, raising questions about Tom's goals, revealing them by describing his journey home, then creating another mystery by having Tom pocket the note he has written to Polly. Interestingly, Twain's narrative method parallels Tom's method as a strategist. Tom keeps his goals a secret from his family and friends until he can reveal them with a final dramatic flourish. In Chapter 12, he plotted a game designed to stop Polly from persecuting him with Pain-Killer, and he never revealed his goal until he had Polly cornered. Similarly, he doesn't let his friends know the purpose of his trip home. Can you guess why he is so slow to show his hand?