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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 6

Twain introduces Huckleberry Finn in this chapter, giving you a chance to compare Tom with a freer spirit. Twain also proceeds with the story of Tom's courtship of Becky.

With a week of school awaiting him when he awakens Monday morning, Tom checks his body for an injury that will allow him to stay home. A "mortified" toe won't do, nor will a loose tooth, which Aunt Polly deftly pulls.

On the way to school, Tom meets Huckleberry Finn, the town drunk's son and the opposite of the model boy. Tom is under orders not to play with Huck. This ban makes Huck more attractive to Tom, who plays with this outcast every chance he gets.

NOTE: THE LURE OF HUCK FINN

In a single paragraph, Twain lists those aspects of Huck Finn's life that make him the envy of "every harassed, hampered, respectable boy in St. Petersburg." The list adds up to total freedom-doing what he pleases, when he pleases, and never having to obey anybody. How are the lives of "respectable boys" like Tom different from Huck's? In what ways are they "hampered?" Might Huck's way of life hamper him in ways that a "respectable" boy like Tom can't imagine?


Huck is carrying a dead cat that he bought from another boy. He intends to use the cat at the graveyard that night to cure his warts. He promises to take Tom with him. This promise will allow Twain to introduce one of the novel's major plot lines in Chapter 9.

NOTE: FOLKLORE

The superstitions the boys discuss in this chapter were current in the Midwest during Twain's youth. Thus, they are interesting historically as folklore, which is usually passed on by word of mouth and rarely written down. When it is written down, as here, it enables you to glimpse the way people once thought.

Tom's chat with Huck makes him late to school. To everyone's astonishment, he admits he talked to Huck. As punishment, the schoolmaster canes Tom and orders him to sit on the girls' side of the room, in the vacant seat next to Becky Thatcher. This was exactly the "punishment" that Tom had hoped his honesty would bring him.

Once next to Becky, he draws a picture for her, which she admires. He offers to teach her how to draw during the noon recess, and she agrees. ("Good,- that's a whack," says Tom, meaning "It's a deal.") The teacher catches Tom showing Becky the words "I love you," which he has written on the slate. Tom finds himself back in his own seat with a "jubilant" heart. He is unable to focus on his studies-even his best subject, spelling. In a spelling bee, he misses some of the simple words and gets "turned down"- moved from the head of the line to the bottom with each misspelling. In the process, he loses the pewter medal which, as the class's best speller, he had worn for months.

NOTE: USE OF THE WORD "NIGGER"

The first mention of black people in the novel, in Chapter 2, is a reference by the narrator to "negro boys and girls." Here, however, Tom and Huck employ the ugly and disparaging word "nigger." Twain's use of the word has gotten his books labeled racist and banned from some libraries.

Actually, Twain uses the word "nigger" only when trying to give a realistic report of the speech of the people with whom he grew up. When speaking in his own voice-or his narrator's-he usually uses the term "negro," without the capital N that editors of his books often added during this century.

Did he make a mistake by recording the speech current during his boyhood? What might the novel have gained-or lost-if Twain had made Huck and Tom use the word "negro"?

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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
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