The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by: Mark Twain

Chapters 21–24

Summary Chapters 21–24

Summary—Chapter 21: Eloquence—and the Master’s Gilded Dome

Summer has almost arrived and the schoolchildren are restless. Mr. Dobbins becomes even more harsh in his discipline, provoking the boys to conspire against him. At the end of the year, the town gathers in the schoolhouse for the “Examination,” in which students recite speeches and poems and engage in spelling and geography competitions. Tom struggles through “Give me liberty or give me death,” finally succumbing to stage fright, and a series of young ladies then recites the hilariously awful poems and essays they have written. Finally, the schoolmaster turns to the blackboard to draw a map of the United States for the geography class, and at that moment a blindfolded cat is lowered from the rafters by a string. The animal claws at the air and yanks off Mr. Dobbins’s wig, revealing a bald head that the sign-painter’s boy gilded while Mr. Dobbins slept off a bout of drinking.

Summary—Chapter 22: Huck Finn Quotes Scripture

At the beginning of summer, Tom joins the Cadets of Temperance in order to wear one of their showy uniforms. Unfortunately, to join he must swear off smoking, tobacco chewing, and cursing—prohibitions that prove very difficult. He resolves to hang on until Judge Frazier, the justice of the peace, dies, because then he can wear his red sash in the public funeral. When the judge recovers, Tom resigns from the Cadets. The judge suffers a relapse and dies that night.

Vacation begins to drag. Becky Thatcher has gone to the town of Constantinople to stay with her parents, and the various circuses, parades, and minstrel shows that pass through town provide only temporary entertainment. The secret of Dr. Robinson’s murder still tugs at Tom’s conscience. Tom then gets the measles, and when he begins to recover, he discovers that a revival has swept through the town, leaving all his friends suddenly religious. That night brings a terrible thunderstorm, which Tom assumes must be directed at him as punishment for his sinful ways. The next day he has a relapse of the measles and stays in bed for three weeks. When he is finally on his feet again, Tom finds that all his friends have reverted to their former, impious ways.

Summary—Chapter 23: The Salvation of Muff Potter

Muff Potter’s trial approaches, and Tom and Huck agonize about whether they should reveal what they know. They agree that Injun Joe would kill them, so they continue to help Potter in small ways, bringing him tobacco and matches and feeling guilty when he thanks them for their friendship. The trial finally arrives, and Injun Joe gives his account of the events. A series of witnesses testifies to Potter’s peculiar behavior, and in each case Potter’s lawyer declines to cross-examine. Finally, Potter’s lawyer calls Tom Sawyer as a witness for the defense, much to everyone’s amazement. Tom, deeply frightened, takes the witness stand and tells the court what he saw that night. When he reaches the point in the story where Injun Joe stabs the doctor, Injun Joe leaps from his seat, pulls free of everyone, and escapes through a window.

Summary—Chapter 24: Splendid Days and Fearsome Nights

Tom was a glittering hero once more—the pet of the old, the envy of the young. . . . There were some that believed he would be President, yet, if he escaped hanging.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Tom is acclaimed as a hero and enjoys the adulation and gratitude of Muff Potter and the rest of the town during the day. At night, however, he is tormented by visions of Injun Joe coming to kill him. Injun Joe has vanished, despite the town’s and a detective’s best efforts to locate and capture him.

Analysis—Chapters 21–24

Mr. Dobbins’s humiliation at the hands of the sign-painter’s boy and the revelation that he drinks too much links him with the Sunday school superintendent and the minister as a person in a position of power who falls victim to Twain’s deft satire. Dobbins is a prime example of an authority figure who, ironically, has no true authority, because he is clearly dissatisfied with who he is. Both Mr. Dobbins’s obsession with his anatomy textbook and his false hair manifest his desire to be something that he is not.