The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer book cover
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What happens in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and his friend Huck witness a murder in a cemetery. The culprit, Injun Joe, makes an attempt on Tom's life. In the end, Tom and Huck trap Injun Joe inside of a cave and recover his stolen gold, making themselves rich.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer summary key points:

  • Tom Sawyer becomes infatuated with a new girl at school, but their brief romance ends when he admits his previous ties to Amy Lawrence.

  • Tom and his friend Huckleberry Finn witness a murder in the cemetery.

  • Tom, Huck, and Joseph Harper run away from home and convince their families that they are dead, then surprise them at their own funerals.

  • Tom testifies against Injun Joe at the murder trial, and Injun Joe escapes.

  • Tom and Huck help to capture Injun Joe by trapping him inside a cave.

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tom Sawyer lives securely with the knowledge that his Aunt Polly loves him dearly. When she scolds him or whips him, he knows that inside her breast lurks a hidden remorse. Often he deserves the punishment he receives, but there are times when he is the victim of his tattletale half brother, Sid. Tom’s cousin Mary is kinder to him. Her worst duty toward him is to see to it that he washes and puts on clean clothes, so that he will look respectable when Aunt Polly takes the children to Sunday school.

When a new family moves into town, Tom sees a pretty, blue-eyed girl with lacy pantalettes. Instantly the fervent love he has felt for Amy Lawrence flees from his faithless bosom, replaced by devotion to this new girl. At Sunday school, Tom learns that her name is Becky Thatcher. She is in school the next day, sitting on the girls’ side of the room with an empty seat beside her. Tom comes late to school that morning. When the schoolmaster asks Tom why he is late, the empty seat beside Becky catches his eye. Recklessly he confesses he stopped to talk with Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunk. Huck wears cast-off clothing, never attends school, smokes and fishes as often as he pleases, and sleeps wherever he can. For associating with Huckleberry Finn, Tom is whipped by the schoolmaster and ordered to sit on the girls’ side of the room. Amid the snickers of the entire class, he takes the empty seat next to Becky.

Tom first attracts Becky’s attention with a series of drawings on his slate. At length, he writes the words, “I love you,” and Becky blushes. Tom persuades her to meet him at lunch. Sitting with her on a fence, he explains the possibilities of an engagement between them. Innocently, she accepts his proposal, which Tom insists must be sealed by a kiss. In coy resistance she allows Tom a brief chase before she yields to his embrace. Tom’s happiness is unbounded. When he mentions his previous tie with Amy Lawrence, however, the brief romance ends, and Becky leaves with a toss of her head.

That night, Tom hears Huck’s whistle below his bedroom window. Sneaking out, Tom joins his friend, and the two go off to the cemetery. They are about to try a new method for curing warts. The gloomy atmosphere of the burial ground fills the boys with apprehension, and their fears increase when they spy three figures—Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and Doctor Robinson. Evidently they have come to rob a grave. When the two robbers exhume the body, they begin to quarrel with the doctor about money. In the quarrel, the drunken Potter is knocked out. Then Injun Joe takes Potter’s knife and kills the doctor. When Potter recovers from his blow, he thinks he has killed Robinson, and Injun Joe allows him to believe himself guilty. Terrified, Tom and Huck slip away from the scene, afraid that if Injun Joe discovers them he will kill them, too.

Becky has not come to school since the day she broke Tom’s heart. According to rumor, she is ill. Tom loses all interest in life, brooding over what he and Huck saw in the graveyard. Convinced that Tom is ill, Aunt Polly doses him with a quack painkiller and keeps him in bed, but he does...

(The entire section is 2,834 words.)