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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The church service gives the townspeople and their minister, Mr. Sprague, ample chance to show off. It also allows Twain to continue to describe Hannibal's cast of characters and routine happenings.
Twain finds a great deal to mock in the procession of townspeople down the church aisle. The "unnecessary" mayor, the young girls dressed in fancy linen ("lawn-clad"), and their "oiled and simpering admirers." To Tom, the "Model Boy, Willie Mufferson" stands out as particularly noxious. The boys hate Willie, who has been held up by their parents as an example of proper behavior.
NOTE: TWAIN'S ASIDES
Twain steps into his narrative a couple of times in this chapter to
comment on the action. In one instance, he adds an aside about "ill-bred"
church choirs. In another, he comments on the "queer custom"
of ministers' reeling off announcements. Some readers see these asides
as awkward intrusions. Others view them as a fitting part of Twain's unique
storytelling style, which he developed while touring as a lecturer. How
do the asides affect you?
The Reverend Mr. Sprague is an impressive speaker-to his ears and those of other adults, at least. To Tom, he is a bore. During the prayer, Tom focuses on a fly; during the sermon, he counts the pages that Sprague reads from.
NOTE: "PREDESTINED ELECT"
To understand one of this chapter's best jokes, you have to know something about the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church. The "predestined elect" are those chosen by God before their deaths to enter Heaven and join God in everlasting joy. Apparently, Sprague has made this designated elite group seem so small that they appear insignificant to Tom, who wonders why such a tiny group should be worth God's notice at all.
Tom perks up when the minister describes the millennium-the thousand years of righteousness and happiness that the Bible predicts are coming. According to one prophecy (Isaiah 11:6), animals that were once foes will become friends, with a little child to lead them. This idea appeals to Tom, who would like to be that child-and the center of the world's attention.
Almost accidentally, Tom converts the church service into play, as he does most everything else. Playing with a beetle he has brought to church, he drops it on the aisle, out of his reach. A dog plays with the beetle and gets pinched by it, to the delight of the congregation.