The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Questions and Answers
by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer book cover
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In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, how did Tom get the white-washing done?    

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write6,254 answers

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The answer to this question can be found in chapter 2 of the novel. In my opinion, it is the best part of the book because it completely convinces readers that Tom is quite capable of selling people on just about any idea. I would like to make it clear that Tom doesn't actually do all of the whitewashing that needs to be done to the fence. He starts to do it, but is so discouraged at the amount of fence that is left unpainted that he sits down:

Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a treebox discouraged.

Tom then remembers that kids will be coming by in a bit, so he gets back to work, and what happens next is pure genius on Tom's part. He is actually able to convince multiple kids that what he is doing isn't actually work. He says that he enjoys whitewashing a fence, and he claims that nobody else can do it quite like he can:

"Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?"

Kid after kid comes to the fence, and Tom is able to sell them so completely on the idea that painting the fence is fun that the kids begin paying Tom for the "privilege" to whitewash the fence. Tom gets paid to sit back and watch the other kids do his work:

He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while — plenty of company — and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.

Further Reading:

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writergal06 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write352 answers

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Tom convinced passing kids from the neighborhood that whitewashing the fence was the new cool passtime. He told them that he was priviledged to be able to do it, and that it was too high a responsibilty for him to trust others with. By using this very elementary form of reverse psychology, Tom is not only able to get out of painting the fence, but also makes a "profit" from it by charging to let other boys paint for a while.

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ribsythedog | Student

he said it was the funnest thing ever and everyoen wanted to try it and he made them pay him to do it