Chapter 22 Summary
Summer vacation is approaching, but for now this means misery for the children at Tom’s school. Mr. Dobbins is nervous about “Examination” day, when the children will perform before the whole town to show what they have learned throughout the year. Because of this, he whips the students more frequently than ever. Although he is totally bald beneath his wig, he is not the least bit frail.
The smallest boys bear the brunt of Mr. Dobbins’s anger, and they are soon extremely angry at him. They take every opportunity to play pranks, but Mr. Dobbins always gets back at them with yet more whippings. The boys cannot stand the way he always comes out on top. They discuss the problem, and soon they make a brilliant plan for final revenge.
Mr. Dobbins rents a room from the town’s sign painter, whose son promises that he can prepare their revenge during the teacher’s nap before the “Examination” day event. The other boys work on the rest of the preparations, and as the evening begins, everyone is excited to see what will happen.
The whole town assembles in the schoolhouse, with the children sitting up front. There are “rows of small boys, washed and dressed to an intolerable state of discomfort” as well as “snow-banks of girls…clad in lawn and muslin.” The performance begins with the smallest children, who recite poems and famous speeches. The littlest ones get through their performances all right, but Tom Sawyer gets stage fright in the middle of the “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, and he is unable to finish.
After the recitations are over, the older girls get up and read compositions they have written themselves. These works of literature are characterized by “glaring insincerity” and extreme overuse of purple prose. At the end of the readings, first prize is awarded to a ten-page “nightmare” that is popular with the audience because it declares non-Presbyterians evil.
At the end of these readings, Mr. Dobbins seems pleased. He stands up to draw an outline of the United States on the blackboard. He is planning to quiz the students on geography in front of the audience, but his drawing is so bad that the crowd giggles. He wipes it out and starts over, concentrating hard on doing the job properly. The crowd continues to laugh, and he does not understand why.
Unbeknownst to Mr. Dobbins, the small boys are lowering a live cat on a string toward his head. The cat struggles in fear, clawing out and eventually grabbing onto the teacher’s wig. The boys whisk her out of sight, taking the wig with her. And thanks to the sign painter’s son, Mr. Dobbins’s bald head is painted gold. The audience roars with laughter, and with that, the “Examinations” end. It is summer vacation at last.