The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by: Mark Twain

Chapters 4–6

Summary—Chapter 6: Tom Meets Becky

On Monday morning, Tom feigns a “mortified toe” with the hope of staying home from school. When that ploy fails, he complains of a toothache, but Aunt Polly yanks out the loose tooth and sends him off to school.

On his way to school, Tom encounters Huckleberry Finn, the son of the town drunkard. Huck is “cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town,” who fear that he will be a bad influence on their children. But every boy, including Tom, admires Huck and envies him for his ability to avoid school and work without fear of punishment. Huck and Tom converse, comparing notes on charms to remove warts. Huck carries with him a dead cat, which he plans to take to the graveyard that night. According to superstition, when the devil comes to take the corpse of a wicked person, the dead cat will follow the corpse, and the warts will follow the cat. Tom agrees to go with Huck to the cemetery that night, trades his yanked tooth for a tick from Huck, and continues on to school.

Tom arrives late, and the schoolmaster demands an explanation. Tom notices an open seat on the girls’ side of the room, next to Becky Thatcher. He decides to get in trouble on purpose, knowing that he will be sent to sit with the girls as punishment. He boldly declares, “I stopped to talk with Huckleberry Finn!” The horrified teacher whips Tom and sends him to the seat next to Becky.

Tom offers Becky a peach and tries to interest her by drawing a picture on his slate. Becky initially shies from Tom’s attentions, but she soon warms to him and promises to stay at school with him during lunch. Becky and Tom introduce themselves, and Tom scrawls “I love you” on his slate. At this point, the teacher collars Tom and drags him back to the boys’ side of the room.

Analysis—Chapters 4–6

Twain renders Tom’s cousin Mary as an idealized character whose total goodness leads her to forgive the faults of others. Unlike Sid, who behaves well but delights in getting Tom in trouble, Mary behaves well and attempts to keep Tom out of mischief. Her motherly caring for Tom is manifest not only in her eagerness for Tom to learn Bible verses but also in her name, which evokes that of Mary, mother of Jesus.

In the Sunday school scenes, Twain gently satirizes the tradition of making children memorize Bible verses. He points out the cheapness of the prize—“a very plainly bound Bible”—and relates the story of a German boy who “had once recited three thousand verses without stopping” and afterward suffered a nervous breakdown. In calling the boy’s collapse “a grievous misfortune for the school” (since the school relied on the German boy to perform for guests), Twain implies that the students are memorizing verses not for real spiritual growth but for the sake of making their teachers and superintendent look good. Twain furthers this implication by illustrating Mr. Walters’s eagerness to display a “prodigy,” or extremely talented youth, for Judge Thatcher.