The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by: Mark Twain

Injun Joe

[“]Say, Huck, I know another o’ them voices; it’s Injun Joe.” . . . “That’s so—that murderin’ half-breed! I’d druther they was devils a dern sight. What kin they be up to?”

Huck and Tom introduce Injun Joe to the novel as they react to hearing his voice in the cemetery the night they witness a murder. Through Tom and Huck’s conversation, readers learn of Injun Joe’s infamous violence. Huck’s response in saying he would rather meet the devil speaks to the fear and evil that Injun Joe represents to these boys.

Five years ago you drove me away from your father’s kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something to eat, and you said I warn’t there for any good; and when I swore I’d get even with you if it took a hundred years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did you think I’d forget? The injun blood ain’t in me for nothing. And now I’ve got you, and you got to settle, you know!

While in the cemetery as Huck and Tom secretly listen in, Injun Joe turns on Dr. Robinson after digging up a grave. Injun Joe explains to the doctor that he has been holding a grudge against him for five years for mistreating Injun Joe when he asked for something to eat at the doctor’s father’s home. Injun Joe clearly states that he remains angry for the mistreatment and seeks vengeance.

[I]n the same instant the half-breed saw his chance and drove the knife to the hilt in the young man’s breast . . . The half-breed muttered: “That score is settled—damn you.” . . . Then he robbed the body. After which he put the fatal knife in Potter’s open right hand, and sat down on the dismantled coffin.

Injun Joe reveals his lack of any moral character when he murders the young doctor, feels satisfaction from taking his revenge, and then sets up Muff Potter to take the blame. Only a truly evil person with no conscience could so easily murder a human being and then falsely accuse another with no remorse. Injun Joe’s calm demeanor during the entire event only further underscores his wicked character.

Tom, we got to keep mum. You know that. That Injun devil wouldn’t make any more of drownding us than a couple of cats, if we was to squeak ’bout this and they didn’t hang him. Now, look-a-here, Tom, less take and swear to one another—that’s what we got to do—swear to keep mum.

Tom and Huck’s reaction to witnessing Injun Joe murder the young doctor reveals Injun Joe’s degraded character and the fear he strikes in the villagers. Here, Huck pleads with Tom that they should keep quiet about what they saw in order to avoid being killed by Injun Joe. Huck explains that Injun Joe would have no remorse in killing them, painting Injun Joe as a soulless man.

Then Huckleberry and Tom stood dumb and staring, and heard the stonyhearted liar reel off his serene statement, they expecting every moment that the clear sky would deliver God’s lightnings upon his head, and wondering to see how long the stroke was delayed. And when he had finished and still stood alive and whole, their wavering impulse to break their oath and save the poor betrayed prisoner’s life faded and vanished away, for plainly this miscreant had sold himself to Satan and it would be fatal to meddle with the property of such a power as that.

When Injun Joe blatantly lies to the villagers, placing the entire murder on Muff Potter, the narrator describes how Tom and Huck feel shocked when God doesn’t strike Injun Joe down for being so evil. In this moment, they decide that Injun Joe must be working for the devil and therefore, they cannot reveal what they know for fear of Injun Joe’s evil power. Injun Joe terrifies them with his confident deviation from morality.

The villagers had a strong desire to tar and feather Injun Joe and ride him on a rail, for body snatching, but so formidable was his character that nobody could be found who was willing to take the lead in the matter, so it was dropped. He had been careful to begin both of his inquest statements with the fight, without confessing the grave robbery that preceded it; therefore it was deemed wisest not to try the case in the courts at present.

Even though the villagers know that Injun Joe was at least guilty of digging up the grave the night of the murder, their reluctance to bring him to court for punishment speaks to his intimidating character. They avoid conflict with Injun Joe because they fear him. While his actions have proven his evil character, perhaps the village also mistrusts Injun Joe because of his mixed racial background, revealing the time period’s blatant prejudice.

“You don’t know me. Least you don’t know all about that thing. ’Tain’t robbery altogether—it’s revenge!” and a wicked light flamed in his eyes.

Injun Joe speaks to his accomplice in the “haunted house” while Tom and Huck secretly listen from their hiding place. Injun Joe rejects his accomplice’s suggestion to abandon a dangerous job, clarifying that the job is about revenge, not money. Again, Injun Joe displays his deep-seated anger and desire for vengeance over people that he believes have insulted or injured him in some way.

I tell you again, as I’ve told you before, I don’t care for her swag—you may have it. But her husband was rough on me—and mainly he was the justice of the peace that jugged me for a vagrant. And that ain’t all. It ain’t a millionth part of it! He had me horsewhipped! . . . He took advantage of me and died. But I’ll take it out on her.

Huck Finn listens as Injun Joe explains to his accomplice why he seeks revenge on the Widow Douglas, revealing his angry, vengeful character once again. Injun Joe describes how the Widow Douglas’s late husband mistreated him, highlighting racial conflict common during the time period of this novel. However, Injun Joe’s cold and calculating soul shows through as he plans to take his anger out on the Widow Douglas.

When you want to get revenge on a woman you don’t kill her—bosh! you go for her looks. You slit her nostrils—you notch her ears like a sow! . . . I’ll tie her to the bed. If she bleeds to death, is that my fault? I’ll not cry, if she does[.]

Injun Joe graphically describes his violent plan of revenge on the Widow Douglas. Injun Joe describes how he will injure and maim the Widow Douglas and will feel no remorse for the deed even if she dies. This quote completes the obviously base portrait of Injun Joe: devoid of all moral character and incredibly dangerous.

It is many and many a year since the hapless half-breed scooped out the stone to catch the priceless drops, but to this day the tourist stares longest at that pathetic stone and that slow-dropping water when he comes to see the wonders of McDougal’s cave . . . Injun Joe was buried near the mouth of the cave; and people flocked there in boats and wagons from the towns and from all the farms and hamlets for seven miles around . . . and confessed that they had had almost as satisfactory a time at the funeral as they could have had at the hanging.

The narrator describes the reaction to Injun Joe’s wretched death in the caves. While Tom feels mostly relieved, he does actually feel some sympathy for the way Injun Joe dies. The villagers and visitors place Injun Joe on a pedestal. Injun Joe becomes a marvel and his funeral a celebration. While people mistreated and feared Injun Joe during his life, they ironically celebrated him after his death.