The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Questions and Answers
by Mark Twain

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What is the character of Aunt Polly's realationship to Tom in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

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Aunt Polly is Tom Sawyer's kind-hearted guardian. She is the sister to the late mother of Tom and Sid.

Aunt Polly wants to raise Tom right, but the high-energy boy is always into some sort of mischief and almost too much of a handful for her. Her chief dilemma is that she likes him too much to want to punish him, and yet she knows it is wrong to let him get away with his hijinks. As she puts it,

Every time I let him off, my conscience does hurt me so, and every time I hit him my old heart most breaks.

Aunt Polly speaks in the dialect of Hannibal, Missouri, and her life is guided by a mixture of religious and folk wisdom. She hits Tom on the head sometimes with her thimble, but mostly, Tom is able to get around her and do what he wants. Sometimes she tries to use her wits or a little well-intended manipulation to get him to behave, but most of the time, this fails. As the narrator says,

Like many other simple hearted souls, it was her pet vanity to believe she was endowed with a talent for dark and mysterious diplomacy.

Aunt Polly is also interested in patent medicines and quack medical therapies. Often the medicines she gives Tom simply make him so drunk that he falls "on the floor expiring with laughter."

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tom’s Aunt Polly is his mother’s sister.  She takes care of Tom and his brother Sid.  She loves Tom very much, which is why she does not want to punish him when she catches him doing wrong.

He's full of the Old Scratch, but laws-a-me! he's my own dead sister's boy, poor thing, and I ain't got the heart to lash him, somehow. (ch 1)

Even though he is a troublemaker, Aunt Polly knows that Tom’s heart is in the right place.  He does not feel bad about tricking people and trying to get out of work or school, but he does feel bad about giving his aunt frets.  They have a good relationship, and Tom does not seem to regret having no mother.  She still feels sorry for him though, and makes allowances for him because of it.

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