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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain

Chapters 14–17

Summary Chapters 14–17

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.

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.