What does the last line of chapter 17 mean in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The last sentence of chapter 17 of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer reads:

Tom got more cuffs and kisses that day -- according to Aunt Polly's varying moods -- than he had earned before in a year; and he hardly knew which expressed the most gratefulness to God and affection for himself.

As we know, Tom had left home and had been gone for nearly a week. The entire town was put on alert, and even the pastor sings praises once Tom returns. However, Tom's absence causesĀ  both anger and frustration just as his return causes joy and relief.

This being said, a "cuff" is a slap behind the head. This is apparently a common thing for parents to do to their children during the time the story is told. This means that Aunt Polly has probably slapped Tom behind the head a few times out of frustration, and then quickly she would kiss him and show him affection due to the joy of having him back. Depending on her mood, she would do one thing or the other. This is basically what it means that he got more cuff and kisses in that one day of his return than he had earned before in a year.

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