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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 17

Twain reveals Tom's secret in this short chapter, which provides the climax of the Jackson's Island adventure. As you read, note how subtly Twain uses irony to bring out the underlying humor of this elaborate practical joke.

On Saturday, while the boys are playing Indians on Jackson's Island, the town of St. Petersburg is shrouded with grief. Becky, in tears, wishes she had kept the brass andiron knob "to remember [Tom] by." Elsewhere, children envy those among them who were the last to see the boys alive.

On Sunday, the boys' funerals take the place of the regular church service. The minister's "text,"- the New Testament passage that introduces the subject of his sermon-is John 11:25- 26. In this passage, common at funerals, Jesus promises life after death to people who believe Him to be the resurrection and the life"- the giver of eternal life. Would the boys qualify as believers? For evidence, you might reread Tom and Huck's exchange inside the tannery in Chapter 10.


NOTE: USE OF IRONY

Twain shows himself a master of irony-saying one thing while suggesting another-in this chapter. Note especially how he describes the minister's "pictures of the graces, the winning ways and the rare promise of the lost lads." Of course, few people-probably including the minister-ever saw anything but "faults and flaws" in the boys. The funeral sermon is a literary convention (a generally accepted form) that regularly transforms sinners into saints, and Twain gently mocks that convention here.

Note that though he may be stretching the truth, the minister is not speaking ironically. He wants his listeners to believe he is sincere. It's Twain who is being ironic. He presents alternative interpretations of the boys' characters and pranks to suggest that the minister's view of the boys' "sweet, generous natures" may be inaccurate. Inaccurate, perhaps, but convincing. At the end, even the minister is in tears!

As if on cue, a miracle occurs. The boys are resurrected, just as the Bible passage promised they would be. Tom, Joe, and Huck march up the aisle after having heard their funeral sermon from the empty gallery above the congregation. Twain reveals Tom's secret scheme at last.

Dumbfounded, the minister orders the congregation to sing the Doxology-a hymn of praise for God. ("Old Hundred," the tune to which the Doxology is sung, is so called because Psalm 100 was once sung to it.) Tom swells with pride, confessing to himself "that this was the proudest moment of his life."

Remarkably, no one is angry with the boys. The townspeople have had such a good time that they feel it was worth being "sold" (tricked) and made to look ridiculous.

NOTE: THE FUNERAL AS ENTERTAINMENT

Tom, as you've seen, transforms everything he can into play, with himself as the central figure. Here, he turns his funeral into entertainment-not just for himself, but for the entire town. Like Huck and Joe on Jackson's Island, or the boys who paint Polly's fence, the townspeople become willing participants in the fun and end up grateful to Tom for orchestrating it.

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