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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 16

In terms of writing and character development, this is one of the richest chapters in the novel. It's all the more remarkable because it seems no more than a description of two days of play for the three "pirates." Examine it closely, however, and you'll see how skillful Twain is at depicting the anguish of three boys trying ever so hard to become men.

After breakfast Friday morning, they shed their clothes and frolic in the water. Later, they play marbles: "knucks" (shooters must keep their knuckles on the ground), "ring-taw" (shooters knock marbles out of the ring), and "keeps" (players keep the marbles they win). Tom, his superstitions intact, refuses to follow the others into the water for a second swim because he has lost his lucky charm-an anklet made of rattlesnake rattles, which he believes can ward off a variety of sicknesses.

The three boys all struggle to subdue feelings of homesickness. Tom tries to divert his friends' attention from their misery but fails. Joe finally admits he wants to go home. Tom is determined not to let him.

NOTE: JOE'S CONFESSION

Joe's admission that he wants to go home sets him apart from Huck and Tom. Tom calls him a crybaby and mocks him for wanting to see his mother. This attempt to embarrass Joe into staying reminds you that Joe is the only one of the three who has a mother to return to.


As Joe begins to wade toward the Illinois shore, Huck says he wants to leave, too. Tom is able to stop them only by playing his trump card. He reveals "his secret"- which Twain refuses, at this point, to reveal to you. Tom's craftiness surfaces here. He had planned all along to reveal his scheme, but only as a "last seduction" to keep the boys on the island. The ploy works.

After lunch, Huck teaches his friends how to smoke. Tom and Joe pretend to like smoking. But the dominant feeling is nausea. Joe excuses himself by saying he must hunt for his knife, and Tom offers to help. An hour later, Huck looks for them and finds them asleep. There are indications that both have been sick.

That night, Joe wakes his friends as a storm brews. The boys sit by the fire, waiting for something to happen. Beyond the fire, "everything was swallowed up in the blackness of darkness"- one of Twain's favorite biblical phrases. It comes from the New Testament Book of Jude, where false teachers are compared with shooting stars that flare up only to be lost forever "in the blackness of darkness."

Saturday morning, they sleep a little in the sun and are soon overcome with homesickness. Tom manages to lift their spirits by organizing a game of Indians, and they pass the day chasing each other around the island. For Tom and Joe, the day is almost ruined at the end, when, according to customs they've read or heard about, they must puff a peace pipe. To their delight, they discover that this time they don't get "sick enough to be seriously uncomfortable."

After supper, they smoke again. This new skill makes them happier than "the scalping and skinning of the Six Nations." This is a reference to the powerful Iroquois confederation- originally of five tribes (the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, and Cayugas), later of six, after the Tuscaroras joined them around 1722. These tribes dominated the western part of what is today New York State.

NOTE: UNDERSTANDING TWAIN'S ALLUSIONS

Why is it worth your while to track down these allusions, or passing references, such as the mention of the Six Nations and the phrase from the Book of Jude? For one thing, the effort gives you a deeper appreciation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as literature and as a historical document. It leads you to a deeper understanding of the text-of Twain's meaning and the way he expresses it. In addition, the references are clues to the way Twain's contemporaries thought, and to what they thought about. For example, Indians were much on Americans' minds in the 1870s. (General George Custer made his famous "last stand" against the Sioux in 1876, the year Tom Sawyer was published.) Also, it was a rare American family that didn't own a Bible and refer to it regularly. Biblical stories and teachings shaped the way Americans thought, and biblical phrases cropped up in conversation the way lines from popular songs do now.

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