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11. Twain pokes fun at people's lust for power and money throughout the novel. Some readers see the whitewashing episode in Chapter 2 as a satire on the society's acquisitiveness. Tom wheels and deals, manipulating others for his own gain. But all Tom's capitalistic enterprise is essentially futile. His "wealth" is a laughable collection of odds and ends. He trades these items for tickets that earn him a cheap Bible. But he doesn't want the Bible; he wants the glory that comes from winning the Bible. Some readers believe this is Twain's sly way of poking fun at the urge to own "things"- which turn out, in the end, not to be worth owning at all.
In Chapter 35, Twain mocks the "grave, unromantic men" who turn into children, seeking treasure in every haunted house in the county. Huck's disappointment with "being rich all the time" makes their quest look doubly ridiculous. Finally, Tom deflates the notion that people of money and stature are necessarily better than anyone else, when he tells Huck that in many countries robbers are part of the nobility.
In similar ways, Twain cuts the people of power in Tom's world down to size. Judge Thatcher is revered because "he had traveled, and seen the world"- Constantinople, twelve miles away. Mr. Dobbins, a visiting detective, the superintendent of the Sunday school, and the Rev. Mr. Sprague-all are made less than impressive by Twain's portraits of them. Twain seems to be saying that the powerful are no better than the rest of us, and probably worse. 12. Tom has a wonderful knack for turning nearly everything into play-and for getting others to play with him. You can find examples of this knack in nearly every episode. Work becomes play-for himself and his chums-in the whitewashing scene (Chapter 3); church becomes play-for himself and other churchgoers-in Chapter 5; medical treatment becomes "play"- for himself and a cat-in Chapter 12; his self-pity becomes an adventure on Jackson's Island; and his "death" becomes an entertainment for the entire town (Chapter 17). You can add innumerable examples to this list.
13. The major targets of Twain's burlesques are juvenile literature which claims that only virtue and industry are rewarded; prayers, sermons, and eulogies; literary compositions encouraged by schools; and adult courtship. The entire novel turns the good-boy stories on their heads, showing that bad (i.e., mischievous) boys can become rich, famous, and respected. Tom is the exact opposite of the model boy. While it's hard to demonstrate that he owes his success to his mischievousness, it's certainly true that he succeeds in spite of it.
Twain burlesques church services in Chapter 5 and pokes fun at the insincerity of eulogies in Chapter 17. In Chapter 5, Twain skewers everything from the minister's reading of notices to the irrelevantly detailed prayer and the absurd sermon that "thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving." The minister's eulogy at the funeral paints pictures of boys that the villagers never knew-and yet everyone accepts his "whitewashing" of the boys' misdeeds as the true interpretation.
Twain mocks the "petted melancholy," the "fine language," and the phony sermonizing of school compositions in Chapter 21. Reread that chapter for examples.
He makes gentle fun of the conventions of courtship by having children "act out" the ups and downs of adult relationships. Tom and Becky flirt, show off, quarrel, sulk, and demonstrate just how childish many of the elements of adult courtship are.
14. Religion plays an important role in the lives of the villagers and as a device for moving the novel's action forward. The church is a focus of village social life-a form of entertainment. (See Chapters 4, 5, 17, and 30.) But it is also a powerful tool of social control. Religion preached in St. Petersburg holds out the prospect of "fire and brimstone," or hell, to sinners. This prospect makes Tom, Polly, and many others painfully aware of their shortcomings. Note Joe Harper and Tom at the end of Chapter 13, saying their prayers "lest they might call down a sudden and special thunderbolt from Heaven." Because the Bible teaches them not to steal, they feel guilty about having stolen the provisions they brought to the island, and their guilt won't let them sleep.
Polly also looks to religion as a guide to disciplining Tom. She thinks that the Bible says, "Spare the rod and spoil the child" (it doesn't). To keep her conscience from rebelling-and to follow what she thinks is a religious injunction-she punishes Tom by making him whitewash the fence. In this way, her fear of God plays a role in moving the story forward.
Tom's "harassed conscience," also attributable to his religious beliefs, forces him to the witness stand in Muff Potter's defense. His testimony ends one story line while triggering the start of another-that of Injun Joe's fate and the treasure.