[“]He’s full of the Old Scratch, but laws-a-me! he’s my own dead sister’s boy, poor thing, and I ain’t got the heart to lash him, somehow. Every time I let him off, my conscience does hurt me so, and every time I hit him my old heart most breaks[.]”
Aunt Polly reveals her big heart and caring character early on in the story. As she tries to find and speak to Tom, he escapes her and she thinks aloud about her experience raising him. She explains how she struggles to keep Tom in line while also showing him love. Her conflict regarding discipline demonstrates how much she truly cares for Tom.
After breakfast his aunt took him aside, and Tom almost brightened in the hope that he was going to be flogged; but it was not so. His aunt wept over him and asked him how he could go and break her old heart so; and finally told him to go on, and ruin himself and bring her gray hairs with sorrow to the grave, for it was no use for her to try any more. This was worse than a thousand whippings, and Tom’s heart was sorer now than his body.
After Tom is caught sneaking out at night by Sid, Tom wakes to a realization that Aunt Polly has been told and feels upset with him. However, the narrator describes how Aunt Polly wisely uses Tom’s moral conscience and guilt to punish him rather than a physical consequence. Aunt Polly’s moral persuasion carries more influence than corporal punishment on Tom’s behavior as she plays on Tom’s emotions and obvious esteem for her.
She was as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long, and so she was an easy victim. She gathered together her quack periodicals and her quack medicines, and thus armed with death, went about on her pale horse, metaphorically speaking, with “hell following after.” But she never suspected that she was not an angel of healing and the balm of Gilead in disguise, to the suffering neighbors.
The narrator describes Aunt Polly’s trusting and genuine character as she easily falls victim to the latest scams or medical miracle cures. For example, in this section of the story, Aunt Polly tries to cure Tom of his sad mood with various remedies, experimenting with each one. Aunt Polly not only shows her trusting, gullible character, but also how much she genuinely cares about Tom.
Aunt Polly knelt down and prayed for Tom so touchingly, so appealingly, and with such measureless love in her words and her old trembling voice, that he was weltering in tears again, long before she was through . . . He had to keep still long after she went to bed, for she kept making brokenhearted ejaculations from time to time, tossing unrestfully, and turning over.
The narrator describes a scene when Tom, Huck, and Joe disappear, and the village fears they have died. Aunt Polly, Mrs. Harper, Sid, and Mary comfort one another while Tom secretly eavesdrops on the scene. After the others leave, Aunt Polly expresses genuine and deep love for Tom as she mourns him. Her love and sadness ring so true that she even brings Tom to tears.
“It’s a good lie—it’s a good lie—I won’t let it grieve me” . . . So she sought the jacket pocket. A moment later she was reading Tom’s piece of bark through flowing tears and saying: “I could forgive the boy, now, if he’s committed a million sins!”
When Aunt Polly realizes that Tom really did think about leaving her a reassuring note, she becomes overcome with the joy that Tom had this loving thought. Even though Tom never left the note, Aunt Polly explains how finding the letter in his jacket pocket proves his genuine care for her and the fact that he has moments of sincerity. Aunt Polly wants to think the best of Tom, so she feels pleased to find this truth.