The mischievous Tom Sawyer is extremely clever. Here are three instances of his cleverness and ingenuity in tricking others:
- In Chapter 2, Tom is made to whitewash the fence. As he looks over the thirty yards of board fence that is nine feet high, he is greatly disturbed, "Life to him seemed hollow and existence a burden." He dips his brush in the whitewash and paints, dips again and paints, and then he notices how little he has done; Dismayed at the hours it will take him to perform the task, he sits on a tree-box in his discouragement. At this point the slave Jim comes through the gate, singing and skipping; watching him Tom considers that toting water is better than what he is doing because at the pump there are other boys and girls waiting and enjoying themselves while they do so. "Say, Jim, I'll fetch the water if you'll whitewash some," he calls, but Jim shakes his head, saying that "Ole Missus" has already warned him that Tom would try to get him to do the whitewashing. But Tom is undaunted; he finally has nothing less than "a great, magnificent inspiration." When he passes by, Ben pretends that he is the steamboat Big Missouri--"boat, captain, and engine bells combined," but Tom pays no attention, continuing to whitewash the fence. Finally, Ben asks, "You're up a stump, ain't you?" Tom continues to paint, stands back and checks his art, then continues. Ben is intrigue that Tom would enjoy such a task. When Ben asks him, Tom replies, "Wll, I don't see why I oughn't to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?" Finally, Ben is convinced and asks Tom if he can paint. Feigning reluctance, Tom turns over the paint brush. As he sits watching Ben, other boys come buy and Tom tells them that Aunt Polly would not let Jim or Sid paint, so the others think it a privilege and bid on a chance to paint; Tom lets them trade such things as a kite and a dead rat for a turn. In the end, Tom has fun and the fence gets three coats of whitewash.
In Chapter 12, Aunt Polly, who is gullible and buys remedies from panhandlers makes Tom take a pain remedy. One night as he requests the painkiller only to pour it into a crack in the floor, the cat, Peter, seems attracted to it. Tom tells the cat, named Peter, he may not like it, but the curious cat acts eager to drink it; so, Tom pours some into the cat's mouth. Peter springs wildly into the air, he screams and runs round and round the room, banging against furniture, turning over flowerpots, and "spreading chaos" throughout the house. Aunt Polly scolds Tom, but he points to what the medicine has done to the cat.
"Aunt Polly felt a sudden pang of remorse. This was putting thing in a new light; what was cruelty to a cat might be cruelty to a boy, too. She began to soften; she felt sorry."
She tells Tom to behave and he will not have to take any more medicine.
- In Chapter 23 Tom testifies on behalf of Muff Potter who is charged with murder because he is found next to the murder weapon. Only Tom and Huck know that he was simply drunk, but they are afraid of Injun Joe. Finally, Tom's conscience wins out and he testifies.
Tom began--hesitatingly at first, but as he warmed up...his words flowed more and more easily...
As his testimony develops, Tom sounds more and more convincing; suddenly, Injun Joe springs for a window, "tore his way through all opposers, and was gone!"