The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 20 Summary
by Mark Twain

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Chapter 20 Summary

Tom is feeling gloomy when he heads home for lunch. When he arrives, the first thing Aunt Polly says is, “Tom, I’ve a notion to skin you alive.” Tom, whose troubles with Becky have put all other thoughts out of his head, asks why. Aunt Polly explains that she has made a fool of herself, believing Tom’s lies about a prophetic dream and bragging to Mrs. Harper about it. Joe has mentioned to Mrs. Harper that Tom sneaked home to listen to their conversation on the night in question.

This gives Tom a whole new reason to feel bad. His story about the dream seemed clever in the morning, but now he realizes it was mean. He admits that he lied without thinking, but this time Aunt Polly is not so quick to forgive him. She says that Tom never thinks of anybody but himself.

This is actually untrue. Tom explains that the whole reason he came home was to leave Aunt Polly a note explaining that he and the other boys “hadn’t got drownded.” But he has told too many lies, and Aunt Polly refuses to believe him. She says she would almost be happy that he had “run off and acted so bad” if she could believe that he would ever think of her feelings that way—but she knows it is not possible. After all, if he meant to give her a message to relieve her feelings, why did he not do it?

Tom explains that he “just got all full of the idea” of overhearing his own funeral. He could not stand the idea of spoiling the joke by giving it away early. He had a note written out on a piece of bark, but he stowed it in his pocket, kissed her, and went away. Aunt Polly does not know whether or not to believe that he did this, but she sees that he seems sincere. Sighing, she asks him to kiss her again and go back to school.

As soon as Tom leaves, Aunt Polly goes to the closet to look at the jacket Tom wore on his pirating adventure. She stands over it for some time, debating whether or not to check and see if the bark note really exists. Steeling herself for the worst, she checks Tom’s coat pocket and sees that his story is true. She reads his note tearfully and says, “I could forgive the boy, now, if he’d committed a million sins!”