The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Penguin Classics)
Home : The Adventures of Tom Sawyer : Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-14

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Summary and Analysis

by Mark Twain

Chapters 8-14

Chapter 8 Summary:

Meanwhile, Tom runs off into the dense woods, somewhere far away from the schoolhouse where Becky is. The woods are still, adding to Tom's lonely and melancholy state. Tom sits and begins to consider what it would be like to die, and at this point, the only thing that makes him hesitate is his bad Sunday school record. Becky would be sorry, he thinks to himself, about the way she treated him if only he were dead. "Ah, if only he could die temporarily!"

Instead, Tom decides he wants to run away from home and enter the pirate profession as "Tom Sawyer the Pirate ­ the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main." After daydreaming for a while and playing around with "incantations" and witch's spells, Tom hears a trumpet blast in the distance. Flinging off his jacket and moving some brush to reveal a secret stash of toys, Tom is met by Joe Harper who is clad with the same toys: a bow and arrow, a tin trumpet, and a fake sword. The two boys reenact the story of Robin Hood with their gear, then finish playing for the day swearing that "they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever."

Chapter 8 Analysis:

Asking the rhetorical question, "What had he done?" Tom sinks into a melancholy mood. In this scene, Tom is heartbroken and we see him at one of his most vulnerable points in the novel, when he contemplates death as an answer to his problems ­ something that recurs throughout the novel and foreshadows later events. But the reader should note that Tom's does not center his thoughts around suicide so much as around revenge. When he imagines himself dead, he does so out of self-pity. He wishes to hurt the people who care about him the most, to make them feel guilty for their "wrong-doings." In this manner, we see that Tom can be self-absorbed and selfish. His wish to "die temporarily" is a plan that serves only to elevate his own self-esteem.

When Tom and Joe play "Robin Hood," Tom's craving for attention is also portrayed. Tom, of course, acts as Robin Hood whom he considers to be the most noble of thieves. The image of Robin Hood is a motif of the novel, a game that Tom often plays with his friends. Robin Hood's gallantry appeals to Tom's sense of the romantic: Robin Hood is loved by all, and hated by only the people he steals from. His desire to be like Robin Hood stems from his need to be the center-of-attention. We also see that Tom's aspiration is not to cause mischief, but to be a "noble" figure like Robin Hood. But in actuality, the only way Tom can again attention is to misbehave.

Chapter 9 Summary:

Later that night, after Sid has fallen asleep, Tom waits for Huck's "meow" as the signal. About to succumb to slumber, Huck finally arrives and gives the signal ­ and Tom becomes wide-awake, climbs out the window, off the roof, and runs off to the town graveyard.

The "old-fashioned Western" style graveyard is about a mile-and-a-half away from town, with overgrown grass and an eerie wind. The two boys hide themselves among a cluster of elm trees, just a few feet away from Hoss Williams (who had just been buried) waiting for the spirits to come at midnight. After remaining in the same spot for quite some time, the boys finally hear the sound of muffled voices from the other end of the graveyard, confident that devils are approaching them. But to their surprise, they recognize the voices as the figures come closer and closer!

The voices belong to Old Muff Potter - the town drunk, "that murderin' half-breed" Injun Joe, and young Dr. Robinson. By the light of their lantern, Tom and Huck make out what appears to be a grave robbery. Injun Joe and Potter dig up the coffin and remove the body as Dr. Robinson directs them. Just as the corpse is placed in a wheelbarrow, Muff Potter demands more money from the doctor, who refuses to pay any more. Injun Joe intervenes threatening the doctor with his fists. "You done more than [pay us]," says Joe, recalling how five years ago Dr. Robinson had turned the Injun away from his door when he was asking for food. With revenge on his mind, Injun Joe shouts: "And now I've got you, and you got to settle, you know!"

Dr. Robinson is quick to strike Injun Joe to the ground, after which Muff Potter tackles the doctor to the ground. The doctor flings himself free and strikes Potter unconscious with heavy headboard of the grave. Seeing his chance, Injun Joe grabs the knife Potter had dropped during struggle and stabs the doctor in the chest. As the fatally wounded doctor falls over Potter, Huck and Tom run away in fright.

"That score is settled," says Injun Joe as he robs the doctor's body and then places the bloodied knife in Potter's (who is still unconscious) open hand. When Potter comes to, Injun Joe acts as if it is Potter who has stabbed young Robinson to death. Convinced that he has murdered the doctor, Muff Potter begs Injun Joe not to disclose the events of the night, and the chapter closes with the empty graveyard.

Chapter 9 Analysis:

Chapter nine represents a turning point in the novel: the murder that Tom and Huck witness breaks the sense of innocence and wholesomeness that has, until then, enveloped the small-town life of St. Petersburg. The tone of the chapter reflects this sense of gloom. Twain's description of the night is ominous of what is to happen: everything is "dismally still," the night is dark, and Tom begins to notice the eerie stillness. Twain builds up a feeling of anxiety by focusing on details and using very simple syntax at the start of the chapter, describing the ticking of the clock, the creaking stairs, Aunt Polly's muffled snore, and various other noises of the night.

Twain places a special emphasis on the stillness of the night, both in the house and at the graveyard. The stillness is described both before and after the murder; only when Injun Joe, Muff, and Dr. Robinson are present is the silence disrupted. In effect, this description reflects how the murder will break the "stillness" of Tom's world, shattering the illusion of small-town life. The "stillness" is symbolic of the security and unadulterated lifestyle that is about to be shaken completely by the events of that night.

Similarly, one can draw meaning out of Tom's and Huck's mistaken assumption that the figures approaching them in the graveyard were devils. Ironically, the grown men become more frightening than any devil or witch in that they haunt Tom's conscience and thoughts. Even young Dr. Robinson, who was the victim of Injun Joe, was guilty of grave robbery. Twain effectively portrays human nature as fully capable of evil, a pessimism that is present in many of his other works.

Chapter 10 Summary:

The two boys flee from the graveyard in horror at the scene they had witnessed: the murder of Dr. Robinson by Injun Joe. Out of breath and always looking over their shoulder, Tom and Huck manage to run all the way to the deserted tannery where they find shelter.

Once they gain their breath, the boys rationalize as to what they should do. Not knowing that Injun Joe is attempting to frame Muff Potter for the murder, the boys decide to not tell a soul about what they had seen for fear that Injun Joe would seek revenge upon them as well. They sign a contract to keep their secret "mum" (an image of the contract in Tom's handwriting is placed within the text) and sign their initials in blood after pricking their fingers with needles. After they bury the contract, Huck and Tom hear a dog howling ­ a sign that death is coming, according to black slaves' tales. Still afraid for their lives, the boys let out a sigh when they realize the stray dog is howling directly at Muff Potter. After Tom and Huck say good-bye, Tom sneaks back into his bed through the window, unaware that Sid is wide awake.

The next morning after breakfast, Tom finds out that Sid has told on him once more when Aunt Polly takes him aside. But instead of "flogging him," Polly simply weeps and asks Tom "how he could go and break her old heart so." Guilt and shame rise in Tom, forcing him into a miserable mood for the rest of the day. At school, his mood is none the better when both he and Joe Harper take a flogging for playing hooky the day before. Tom's mood sinks even further when, in his desk, he finds his brass knob wrapped in paper. The chapter ends with the line: "This final feather broke the camel's back."

Chapter 10 Analysis:

After witnessing the murder of Dr. Robinson, Tom and Huck promise to "keep mum" by signing a contract in blood. Their silence shows that they have not yet realized the gravity of their situation. They sign the contract in blood, half mimicking the actions of pirates or robbers. They don't realize the gravity, or reality, of their situation ­ or the situation that Muff Potter will soon be in. Twain uses the howling of the stray dog to foreshadow Muff's misfortune.

In this chapter, we also see that Tom truly cares for Aunt Polly. Despite the trouble he may get himself into, Tom never means to hurt the old woman. "This was worse than a thousand whippings," thinks Tom as Aunt Polly cries over him. When he cries and pleads for his forgiveness, the reader is given no doubt of Tom's sincerity. Similarly, we see that neither Aunt Polly nor Sid is able to realize Tom's sincerity and his better qualities. Like most other young boys, Tom is attracted to mischief ­ but he is still a good boy at heart.

Chapter 11 Summary:

At noon that day, the words had spread through town about the murder of Doc Robinson. A bloody knife, identified as Muff Potter's, had been found close to the crime scene. It was said that one citizen had come across Muff Potter washing himself ­ particularly suspicious because Muff was known for his lack of cleanliness ­ in the river, and it didn't help that he could not be found anywhere. Meanwhile, the entire town is gathered at the graveyard, including Tom and Huck, when Muff Potter unexpectedly returns to the crime scene. Confronted by the crowd as well as the bloody knife now in possession of the Sheriff, Muff breaks down and admits to the murder. Injun Joe, who is present, tells the listening citizens the tale of how Dr. Robinson was murdered, but lies and claims Muff committed the act of violence in a drunken rage. Both Huck and Tom are shocked when they realize that Injun Joe is lying, yet ignore their consciences and remain silent.

In the days following, Sidney begins to notice a change of behavior in his brother. Tom tosses in his sleep, keeping Sid awake with his nightmares. At school, Sid notices that Tom seemed to lose interest in all schoolyard activity, including the dissection of dead cats. Instead of playing with the other children, Tom would sneak away from the schoolyard to the jail cell where Muff Potter was held prisoner, smuggling small tokens and gifts through the barred cell window ­ an outlet to ease Tom's guilty conscience.

In the meantime, the court trial for Dr. Robinson's murder is being planned. Though the citizens of St. Petersburg secretly wish to tar-and-feather Injun Joe for his escapades in grave robbing, no one is willing to come forth and suggest a punishment for the "half-breed." The whole town, scared of Injun Joe's poisonous demeanor, decide not to charge him with any crime for the moment.

Chapter 11 Analysis:

When Injun Joe openly lies and frames Muff Potter for the murder, both Tom and Huck half expect "God's lightening upon [Injun Joe's] head" as punishment." From this, the reader can gather that both of the young boys possess some kind of moral character, despite their bad reputations. What the boys begin to learn in this chapter is that retribution, or justice, is not always so straightforward. Lightning will not strike one down if one lies; instead, they begin to learn that one's conscience can provide a more powerful form of punishment. Tom's conscience slowly begins to pervade his mind, and in an attempt to silence it, Tom visits Muff potter in jail.

Twain also presents one of the darker sides of human nature: how men can create their own truths. In Tom Sawyer, we see a whole town willing to condemn Muff Potter without so much as a trial. Even before Muff Potter has admitted to the crime, the citizens of St. Petersburg have already charged him with the crime, shouting, "It's him! It's him!" The same man whom Huck and Tom remember as a kind heart who drank too much for his own good becomes a beast in the eyes of the "good citizens." In fact, we see that Injun Joe is not the only guilty villain; Twain depicts two other crimes. First, there is the town of St. Petersburg, whose inhabitants are quick to assume and punish the innocent. Second, there is Tom and Huck who ignore their conscience and fail to tell the truth. While the town and the boys are guilty of being "passive" in comparison to Injun Joe's brutality, Twain juxtaposes them to point out that each misdeed is equally serious.

Chapter 12 Summary:

Soon, Tom's mind "drifted away from its secret troubles" regarding the murder because Becky Thatcher had become ill and had stopped attending school. What if she should die, thought Tom. He no longer took any interest in playing games, pirating, or causing mischief. Aunt Polly, concerned with Tom's health, practices a multitude of home-remedies and cure-alls on Tom. Gullible when it comes to quack periodicals and medicine, Polly tries everything from water-treatments to feeding him "Pain-killer."

The "Pain-killer" became a regular treatment, and to Tom, it tasted like liquid fire. Tired of the daily doses, one day Tom feeds a spoonful to the cat, which upon receiving the medicine begins to do somersaults in the air while "spreading chaos and destruction in his path." When Polly learns that Tom has fed the cat the painkiller, Tom explains for his actions by saying that he "done it out of pity for [the cat] ­ because he hadn't any aunt" to "burn him out" and "roast his bowels." Polly suddenly feels remorse, seeing that her endless doses of medicine were as much torture for Tom as it was for the cat and the two come to an unspoken understanding.

Every day now, Tom has been reaching school ahead of timeŠ an unusual occurrence. Loitering by the school gate rather than with his friends, Tom seems sick. When Jeff Thatcher arrives, Tom tries to question about Becky to no avail. At last, Becky returns to school and Tom's habits seem to turn around almost immediately. In his attempts to show off by doing somersaults, chasing the other boys, and tumbling around, Becky responds: "Some people think they're mighty smart." The embarrassed and crestfallen Tom sneaks away from the schoolyard.

Chapter 12 Analysis:

The plot shifts away from the murder when Tom learns that Becky has stopped coming to school due to illness. His state of melancholy seems to manifest itself in his everyday activity, and Tom becomes dreary. Aunt Polly's ability to care for Tom is questioned in this situation when she tries to "fix" Tom's moods by giving him "cure-alls," including painkiller. She isn't able to perceive that Tom's ailments are not physical but emotional. When Tom feed the cat a dose of painkiller, it is his way of showing Aunt Polly that she is treating him like some kind of experiment. "If he'd Œa' had [an aunt]Š she'd Œa' roaster his bowels out of him Œthout any more feeling than if he was a human," cries Tom. Although their relationship seems to strengthen after the incident, the reader is able to see that even Aunt Polly, the authority of the household, is liable to make mistakes.

Tom becomes even more crestfallen when Becky snubs him in the schoolyard. Like he does with Aunt Polly, he attempts to win Becky's attention by "showing off." But with Becky, he is unable to easily win her over by simply displaying his usual antics. It is humorous to see that Tom believes he is acting "heroic" by acting so childish: war-whopping, yelling, laughing, chasing boys, and throwing handsprings. Tom will learn later in his adventures that being a hero means much more than being the center-of-attention.

Chapter 13 Summary:

Full of self-pity, and ready to sulk, Tom walks down the street away from school thinking himself to be some kind of social degenerate: "He was a forsaken, friendless boy." In his plight of loneliness, Tom decides that society has forced him to go into a life of crime. Now sobbing and utterly dismal, Tom chances to come across Joe Harper, also crying for similar reasons. Joe, whose mother had whipped him for drinking cream (a crime of which he was innocent), is in tears and has decided to lead the life of a hermit; but after Tom's persuasion, Joe agrees that a life of crime would be more desirable. So the two boys, determined to become pirates, plan to run away from home and live on Jackson's Island: an uninhabited, narrow, wooded island in the middle of the Mississippi River.

Around midnight, Tom "the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main," Joe Harper "Terror of the Red Seas," and Huck Finn "the Red-Handed" meet by the bank of the river with stolen goods: a skillet, ham, tobacco, bacon, and other trifles. By raft, the gang of three drift toward Jackson's Island. After landing safely and setting up "camp," the boys contemplate the desirable lifestyle of pirates. But after Huck has drifted off to sleep and the campfire dies down, both Tom and Joe silently begin to regret their actions, listening to their guilty consciences. Each says his prayers silently in his head and inwardly resolves never to steal again. Consciences satisfied, each member of the pirate gang succumbs to sleep.

Chapter 13 Analysis:

The river is a common motif in Twain's works, stemming from his experience traveling in steamboats on the Mississippi River. In this chapter, the image of the river becomes not only a symbol of "frontier adventure," but also of a turning point in Tom's life. In literature, the endless flow of a river has evolved into an archetype of life itself. Often, crossing the banks of a river can be taken to symbolize a "rite of passage." In applying this definition to Tom's adventure on Jackson Island, we do see that the river is a kind of boundary between reality ­ St. Petersburg, Becky, Aunt Polly, school ­ and Tom's fantasy. Once he has crossed the river, he is no longer a troubled little boy, but a fearless pirate ­ Tom Sawyer, the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main. By running away to Jackson Island, Tom attempts to runaway from reality.

But we see that Tom is unable to run away from his conscience. He not only says his prayers to himself but also feels guilty for eating a stolen ham. Still afraid that a thunderbolt will be sent to strike him down for his crime, both Tom and Joe vow never to steal in their piracies, for fear of freaking one of the commandments. Fishing, swimming, and doing whatever he pleases, Tom may be able to disobey authority, but he is unable to sleep if he disobeys his conscience.

Chapter 14 Summary:

The next morning, Tom awakes before the other two boys and marvels at the beauty of nature, admiring the plight of a small worm, a trail of ants, a ladybug, the calls of various birds. As Twain describes: "All Nature was wide awake and stirring now." When the other two boys rise, they begin their new lifestyles as pirates. "Living off the fat of the land," the boys swim, play, fish, explore the island, and lay around in the shade. But despite their freedom to do what they please, homesickness creeps over the boys. Though afraid to admit it, each falls to thinking about their friends and family back on the mainland.

But the peaceful atmosphere of Jackson's Island is suddenly disrupted by a "deep sullen boomŠ floating down out of the distance." As the boys investigate further, they find that the sounds are coming from cannons being shot over the waters of the Mississippi River ­ a practice used to bring the bodies of drowning victims afloat. Tom comes to realize that the search party is for them, with the residents of St. Petersburg presuming the missing boys have drowned in river. Triumphant that they were missed sorely by those back home, the boys finally feel it is worthwhile to lead the life of a pirate.

Soon thereafter, night closes in on the small island and the pirate "troupe." Once Huck and Joe are fast asleep, Tom sneaks away from camp cautiously. He stops to write something on a piece of sycamore bark before he tiptoes away and heads for the island shore.

Chapter 14 Analysis:

When Tom wakes up the next morning, he finds beauty in all the insects, the animals, and the scenery of Jackson Island. "The marvel of Nature shaking off sleep and going to work unfolded itself to the musing boy," writes Twain, personifying nature into a kind of all-powerful creator. Twain fills the chapter with descriptive images: a little green worm, a dewy leaf, a brown-spotted lady-bug, the birds, and the foliage. In doing so, he expresses a reverence toward nature that was very prominent in his philosophy on life. According to many of his biographers, Twain often talked about the "unseen forces of creationŠ bringing the seasons with their miracles of diversity and beauty." Through Tom's character, the reader can perceive this appreciation in the beauty of nature.

The atmosphere on the island is a very peaceful one, the land not yet domesticated like the mainland off the Mississippi. The unadulterated landscape seems to reflect the innocence of the young boys as they live off the island. Away from home, they care nothing for society and all its ills. Rather, they are pirates. The only things that disrupt the peacefulness of the boys are the boom of the cannons and their own thoughts of home.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Essays and Related Content