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.
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.”
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.
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.