Chapter 23 Summary

As summer begins, Tom joins a group called the Cadets of Temperance. He gets to march in formation and wear a red sash, but he has to promise not to drink or smoke or swear as long as he is a member. As soon as he makes this oath, he is overwhelmed by an intense urge to do all of these things. However, he wants badly to wear his red sash in public, so he sticks to his oath.

After two days, it is clear to Tom that he will never make it to the Fourth of July without drinking or swearing. He decides to quit the Cadets right after marching at the funeral of Judge Frazer—but the sick old man refuses to die. Tom waits and watches the judge’s condition, trying on his sash in front of a mirror whenever the illness looks grim. Unfortunately the judge soon seems to be recovering his health. Disgusted, Tom quits the Cadets. The judge dies that night, and Tom is forced to watch, envious, from the sidelines as his former brethren march without him.

Soon Tom has to admit that his vacation is not meeting his expectations. He tries keeping a diary, but he has nothing to write in it. He starts a minstrel band, but this quickly becomes boring. Even the Fourth of July is no good because it rains all day. A United States Senator, Mr. Benton, comes to town for the celebration, but he does not measure up to Tom’s hopes. He is not “twenty-five feet high, nor even anywhere in the neighbourhood of it.”

Whenever anything exciting happens—circuses, traveling mesmerizes, parties—it only serves to highlight the dreary boredom of the time between them. Becky Thatcher goes away with her parents, so Tom does not have her company to entertain him. He spends much of his time idle, worrying about the murder he and Huck witnessed in the graveyard.

One day Tom comes down with the measles. After two weeks as a “prisoner,” lying sick in bed, Tom gets a little better and is allowed out to wander around the town. He searches in vain for someone to play with. A revival has passed through town, and everyone is newly religious. Joe Harper is studying the Bible, Ben Rogers is visiting the poor, and even the normally delinquent Huckleberry Finn greets Tom with a quotation from scripture.

The next day, Tom suffers a relapse of the measles. This time he is sick for three full weeks. When he gets better, he wanders sadly outdoors. Now that all of his friends have reformed, it is hardly worth being well. He has no co-conspirators for mischief. Happily, he finds Joe Harper and Huck Finn in an alley munching a stolen melon. As it turns out, they have “suffered a relapse” too.