Summary—Chapter 14: Happy Camp of the Freebooters

The next day, the boys wake on Jackson’s Island and find that their raft has disappeared, but the discovery hardly bothers them. In fact, they find relief in being severed from their last link to St. Petersburg. Huck finds a spring nearby, and the boys go fishing and come up with a bountiful and delicious catch. After breakfast, Tom and Joe explore the island and find pirate life nearly perfect. In the afternoon, however, their enthusiasm and conversation fade, and they begin to feel the first stirrings of homesickness.

In the late afternoon, a large group of boats appears on the river, and, after some confusion, the boys realize that the townspeople are searching for them, assuming they have drowned. This realization actually raises the boys’ spirits and makes them feel, temporarily, like heroes. After dinner, however, both Tom and Joe begin to consider the people who may be missing them terribly. Hesitantly, Joe suggests the possibility of returning home, but Tom dismisses the suggestion. That night, however, Tom decides to cross the river back to town to observe the local reaction to their absence. Before he leaves, he writes messages on two sycamore scrolls, then puts one in his pocket and one in Joe’s hat.

Summary—Chapter 15: Tom’s Stealthy Visit Home

Tom swims from the end of a sandbar to the nearby Illinois shore and stows away on a ferry to cross back to the Missouri side. At home, Tom finds Aunt Polly, Sid, Mary, and Mrs. Harper sitting together. He hides under a bed and listens to their conversation. With the exception of Sid, they all talk about how much they miss the boys and wish they had been kinder to them. Tom learns that the search crew has found the raft downstream, so everyone assumes that the boys capsized in midstream and drowned.

After the company has gone to bed, Tom goes to his aunt’s bedside and almost places one of his sycamore scrolls on her table, but he decides against it. He returns to the island, finds Huck and Joe making breakfast, and tells them of his adventures.

Summary—Chapter 16: First Pipes—“I’ve Lost My Knife”

The boys find turtle eggs on the sandbar that afternoon and eat fried eggs for supper that night and for breakfast the following morning. They strip naked, swim, and have wrestling matches and a mock circus on the beach. Homesickness mounts, however, and Tom finds himself writing “BECKY” in the sand. Joe suggests again that they return home, and this time Huck sides with him. The two boys prepare to cross the river, and Tom, feeling suddenly lonely and desperate, calls to them to stop. He then tells them of a secret plan that he has devised. After hearing his plan (we do not yet know what it entails), both boys agree to stay and their spirits are rejuvenated.

That afternoon, Tom and Joe ask Huck to teach them how to smoke. Huck makes them pipes, and they sit together smoking and commenting on how easy it is. They imagine the effect they will produce when they go home and smoke casually in front of their friends. Eventually, however, both boys begin to feel sick, drop their pipes, and declare that they need to go look for Joe’s knife. Huck finds them later, fast asleep in separate parts of the forest, probably after having vomited. That evening, Huck takes out his pipe and offers to prepare theirs for them, but both boys say they feel too sick—because of something they ate, they claim.

That night, a terrible thunderstorm hits the island. The boys take refuge in their tent, but the wind carries its roof off, so they have to take shelter under a giant oak by the riverbank. They watch in terror as the wind and lightning tear the island apart. When the storm passes, they return to their camp and find that the tree that had sheltered their tent has been completely destroyed.

The boys rebuild their fire out of the embers of the burnt tree and roast some ham. After sleeping for a time, they awaken midmorning and fight their homesickness by pretending to be Indians. At mealtime, however, they realize that Indians cannot eat together without smoking the peace pipe, and so Tom and Joe make a second effort at smoking. This time, they don’t become nearly as ill.

Summary—Chapter 17: Pirates at Their Own Funeral 

Back in the village, everyone remains in deep mourning. Becky Thatcher regrets her coldness toward Tom, and their schoolmates remember feeling awful premonitions the last time they saw the boys. The next day, Sunday, everyone gathers for the funeral. The minister gives a flattering sermon about the boys, and the congregation wonders how they could have overlooked the goodness in Tom and Joe. Eventually, the entire church breaks down in tears. At that moment, the three boys, according to Tom’s plan, enter through a side door after having listened to their own funeral service.

Joe Harper’s family, Aunt Polly, and Mary seize their boys and embrace them, leaving Huck standing alone. Tom complains, “[I]t ain’t fair. Somebody’s got to be glad to see Huck,” and Aunt Polly hugs Huck too, embarrassing him further. The congregation then sings “Old Hundred.”

Analysis—Chapters 14–17

At earlier points in the novel, Tom’s melodramatic self-pity leads him to wish he were dead so that his persecutors would be miserable and sorry for having treated him so unkindly. By running away, he realizes this fantasy to die temporarily and see the reactions of those he has left behind. Ultimately, instead of being a chance to escape adults, the trip to Jackson’s Island is reassurance for Tom and Joe that the adults in their lives still love them and need them.

Read more about the theme of society’s hypocrisy.

Twain uses humorous irony to criticize the hypocrisy of adult society, which only perceives the worth of its members once they have passed away. While alive, most of the adults in St. Petersburg fail to recognize the worth of Tom, Huck, and Joe (Aunt Polly is an exception). When the town presumes the children dead, however, it frantically calls out search boats and mourns. With all of their mental maturity, even the adults of the town cannot justify the regret they have for not appreciating the boys more during their lives. Ironically, Tom’s understanding of how the town will react to the boys’ survival proves that even though he is young and preoccupied with imagination and games, he possesses greater knowledge of human psychology than the town members themselves.

Read more about Tom’s “showing off” throughout the novel.

Tom and Joe’s desire to smoke a pipe reveals that forbidden activities fascinate Tom and his comrades for the prestige that such activities bring them. Whether in fights, in front of girls, or in the classroom, Tom and his friends are constantly showing off. Such performances are critical parts of Tom’s boyhood, because they earn him the respect of his peers and liven up the regular routines of small-town life. It is clear that he and Joe want to learn how to smoke so that they will appear special in the eyes of their friends, not because they expect to enjoy the activity. Tom declares, “I’ll come up to you and say, ‘Joe, got a pipe? I want a smoke.’ . . . And then you’ll out with the pipes . . . and then just see ‘em look.” Indeed, the phrase “just see ‘em look” captures the motivation behind many of Tom’s activities.

Read more about the storm on Jackson Island as a symbol.

This quotation reveals also that Tom is not only a perpetual performer but also a director. As with his funeral, Tom has planned the scene where his friends see him smoke. He seems to relish getting his actors—whether the neighborhood children whom he cons into whitewashing his fence or the pinch-bug he unleashes on the poodle—to perform the parts he has written for them. Even when Joe and Huck rebel against Tom’s authority, wanting to return home in Chapter 16, Tom manages to regain control by sharing his brilliant idea to return triumphantly at their own funeral. His successful persuasion of the boys proves, once again, his understanding of psychology. Tom knows that Huck and Joe too are curious about how they will be missed.

Unlike Tom, who cares very much about appearances, Huck does not concern himself with what others think of him. His existence outside of society permits him to deny its expectations, and he does not feel the need to show off or fit in like the rest of the St. Petersburg boys. In fact, Huck seems genuinely uncomfortable as the recipient of affection. When, amid the joy following the boys’ return, Aunt Polly welcomes Huck with a hug, the self-sufficient Huck is genuinely embarrassed.

Read more about the theme of freedom through social exclusion as represented by Huck.