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THE PLOT - SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
An orphan named Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly in St. Petersburg, Missouri, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River. Tom is not a "model boy," and early one summer around 1845, he proves it. In a single day, he eats jam behind his aunt's back, plays hooky from school and lies to his aunt about it, and fights with a new boy in town.
With helpful hints from Sid, Tom's half-brother, Polly sees through the lie. She punishes Tom by ordering him to whitewash her fence on Saturday. However, Tom finds a way to avoid the work. He makes whitewashing seem like so much fun that other boys give up their prize possessions for the privilege of doing Tom's work.
After playing war games with friends, he notices a new girl in town-Becky Thatcher-who throws him a flower. Smitten, Tom goes home, only to be blamed by Polly for Sid's crime-breaking the sugar bowl.
At Sunday school, Tom trades his whitewashing loot for tickets that boys earned reciting biblical verses. On the way to school the next day, Tom runs into Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunk, and the two plan a midnight meeting. In school, Tom proposes marriage to Becky, who accepts until she learns that Tom was "engaged" before, to Amy Lawrence. Sulking over his rejection, Tom skips the afternoon session of school and ends up playing Robin Hood with a friend.
After midnight, Tom and Huck walk to the graveyard, where they witness an attempted grave robbery and a murder. Muff Potter and Injun Joe, two drifters, balk at completing the grave robbery until Dr. Robinson, who hired them, doubles their pay. Robinson knocks out Potter, and Injun Joe murders Robinson. Injun Joe shifts the blame for the murder to Potter, a drunk, who is led to believe he might be guilty. Tom and Huck are so frightened of Injun Joe that they pledge never to reveal the truth. After Potter is arrested and jailed, the boys smuggle food and tobacco to his cell but don't tell him they know he is innocent.
Back at school, Becky crushes Tom with another rejection. Tom decides to run away to Jackson's Island, downriver from St. Petersburg. He persuades Huck and another friend, Joe Harper, to join him as "pirates." After midnight, the three steal a raft and head out on their adventure.
The next day they realize that the villagers think they've drowned. While Huck and Joe sleep, Tom returns to St. Petersburg and eavesdrops on a conversation in Polly's house. Tom then returns to the island. Four days later, the boys astonish the villagers by walking in on their own funeral.
At school once more, Tom plays hard-to-get with Becky. She feigns interest in Alfred Temple, who ends up spilling ink on Tom's spelling book. The teacher, however, blames Tom and punishes him. To protect Becky, Tom takes the blame for her accidental tearing of the teacher's anatomy book. This act wins him Becky's love.
Summer passes slowly. Becky has left town. Tom joins and quits a temperance group (dedicated to abstinence from alcohol), catches the measles, and lies in bed for five weeks. After much soul-searching, Tom testifies at Muff Potter's trial and Injun Joe flees. With Injun Joe at large, Tom is terrorized by nightmares.
After a while, Tom ventures out with Huck in search of buried treasure. The boys hide upstairs in a "haunted" house and watch Injun Joe and a sidekick uncover a box of gold coins. Joe takes the box with him, telling his friend he'll hide it in "Number Two-under the cross."
Tom and Huck hunt for the treasure in a local temperance tavern and discover Injun Joe drunk in room No. 2. While Tom is at a picnic hosted by Becky, Huck follows Injun Joe and his sidekick up to the widow Douglas' house on Cardiff Hill. Huck runs for help after learning that Joe plans to avenge an old slight by disfiguring the widow. A Mr. Jones and his two sons rush to the widow's aid, but Injun Joe escapes.
At the picnic, Becky and Tom become lost in an enormous cave. After three days in the cave, during which time Tom spots Injun Joe, Tom manages to become a hero once more by leading Becky to safety. Two weeks later, he learns that Becky's father has sealed the cave with an iron door. Inside the cave, they find Joe, dead of starvation.
Tom and Huck later return to the cave in search of the box of gold coins. They find them and row back to St. Petersburg, intending to hide the coins in Mrs. Douglas' hayloft. But Mr. Jones ushers them into the widow's house, where she is holding a party to thank everyone who helped her against Injun Joe. Tom steals center stage by bringing in the treasure, which amounts to $6000 for each boy.
The boys are now relatively rich. Becky's father has lofty plans for Tom-a military and legal education. Huck lives with the widow, who tries to civilize him. When Huck runs away, Tom persuades him to return by promising him a place in Tom Sawyer's Gang, if Huck becomes "respectable."