Illustration of a hand holding a paintbrush that is painting a fence white

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by Mark Twain

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Key Plot Points

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Last Updated on July 8, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 387

Whitewashing the Fence (Chapter 2): This scene, perhaps the most famous in the novel, showcases the height of Tom’s ingenuity and the rewards he is able to secure because of his cleverness. Note that he is rewarded monetarily (through the other children’s gifts) and praised for his work ethic by the unsuspecting Aunt Polly. This scene perfectly represents the comforts of childhood, where the biggest problem one faces is how to avoid doing work. 

Dr. Robinson’s Murder (Chapter 9): The graveyard murder marks the first instance of danger Tom faces, and it drives the plot forward. Tom must confront the biggest—and most consequential—moral dilemma he’s ever faced and decide to either tell the truth about Injun Joe’s guilt or remain silent. 

Testifying at Muff Potter’s Trial (Chapter 33): When Tom testifies at Muff Potter’s trial, he does so out of both guilt and the desire to do right by Potter, who was always kind to him. This is the first time in the narrative that Tom makes the morally correct decision despite potential repercussions, showcasing growth in his character. The scene is tense and dramatic, as readers do not know that Tom has chosen to testify before seeing him on the stand. 

Lost in the Cave (Chapters 29–32): During these chapters, Tom must react calmly and rationally to the dangerous situation of being lost in an ever-twisting cave, potentially without escape. While here, he displays selflessness and strength in order to comfort Becky. His exploration of the cave also provides the location of Injun Joe’s death. 

Significant Allusions

Southwestern Humor Traditions: Southwestern humor shares many conventions with Tom Sawyer’s world. Twain was an avid reader and admirer of humorists, and he incorporated their techniques into his writing to better satirize and entertain his audience. 

  • Shared conventions include conflict between classes, as seen in Huck’s lower-class background, often in a rural community rife with entrenched traditions and rigid customs. 
  • In terms of voice, both relied heavily on local speech patterns and translated dialect as closely as possible from speech to page. 
  • The trickster archetype—a character who uses their intellect to buck social norms, sometimes for their own benefit—often drives conflict in humor traditions, as seen in the deceit of Injun Joe. 

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