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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
This chapter, along with the last one, acts as a bridge between plot lines. Two chapters back, Twain took a break from the story of Tom's courtship of Becky. Now Tom marks time during the first weeks of summer until Twain, in Chapter 23, picks up the threads of the murder story with Muff Potter's trial. Twain, however, doesn't waste your time here. He presents an entertaining review of small-town life before movies, TV, and radio provided the distractions they do today.
Tom is attracted to the temperance movement not by any urge to stamp out drinking and smoking but by the chance to wear a showy uniform. Just as Huck Finn became an irresistible companion when parents forbade their children to play with him, Tom is now tormented by an urge to drink and swear-two things he promised not to do when he joined the Cadets of Temperance.
NOTE: CADETS OF TEMPERANCE
This organization actually existed in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
It was part of the youth wing of the national temperance movement that
campaigned vigorously against alcohol and smoking. Twain joined the cadets
when he was about fifteen. He pledged not to smoke in exchange for the
privilege of wearing a red merino (wool and cotton) sash during public
holidays and parades. "The organization was weak and impermanent,"
Twain concluded in his Autobiography, "because there were not enough
holidays to support it." He remained a cadet "until I had gathered
the glory of two displays-May Day and the Fourth of July." Then he
resigned and resumed smoking-something he had been doing since he was
Tom stays in the organization because a prominent public figure, Judge Frazer, is on his deathbed, and Tom foresees a chance to march in his funeral. But the judge takes a turn for the better. Tom, in disgust, resigns from the lodge, and that very night the judge dies. Now Tom must watch the funeral parade with envy. No longer bound by his pledge, he loses the urge to drink and swear.
Looking for amusement, he begins a diary but can't think of anything to write in it. A minstrel show-a variety show of music, dancing, and comedy performed by white people made up as blacks-comes to town and is a sensation. Led by Tom and Joe Harper, the children devise their own minstrel act and are "happy for two days."
NOTE: MINSTREL SHOWS
Before movies and TV, small towns like St. Petersburg had to import their entertainment or manufacture their own. Lecturers- Twain himself would become one of the best-were popular. So were circuses and troupes of actors who criss-crossed the nation performing one or two plays. Minstrel shows first appeared in 1843 in Virginia and were nationally popularized by such troupes as Edwin P. Christy's, which was founded in Buffalo, New York, in 1846. In their use of dialect, dance movements, and humor, the minstrel shows caricatured black people and, in so doing, planted damaging stereotypes in white people's minds.
The summer plods on, with each high point followed by a low one. Missouri's most famous politician, U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), proves a disappointment to Tom when he makes an appearance at the July 4th parade. A phrenologist and a mesmerizer (hypnotist) break the monotony. (Phrenologists claimed to be able to "read" peoples' character traits by feeling the contours of their scalps.) Becky's absence (she has returned to her parents' home in Constantinople for vacation), the "dreadful secret of murder," and finally the measles keep Tom at a low ebb.
After he recovers from the measles, Tom discovers that an evangelist has passed through town and that everybody has "got religion." Even Huck is quoting the Bible. Tom concludes that as the only irreligious person in town he is doomed to eternal damnation. A driving rainstorm confirms his fears. He is sure that God is trying to punish him for his sins, and he is grateful to find himself alive when the storm ends. Yet he doesn't change his ways and become more religious. In Tom's view, that proves to be a mistake, because he suffers a relapse and has to spend the next three weeks in bed.
NOTE: TOM'S "PRESBYTERIAN CONSCIENCE"
Twain often spoke of his "Presbyterian conscience"- a sense of guilt stemming from the belief that, one way or another, all sins had to be answered for. The corollary held that any setback- sickness, bankruptcy, storm damage, even violent death-was a punishment for sin. As a boy, Twain, like Tom, was haunted by guilt. "Mine was a trained Presbyterian conscience," he wrote in his Autobiography, "and [it] knew but the one duty-to hunt and harry its slave upon all pretexts and on all occasions, particularly when there was no sense nor reason in it." How might this "Presbyterian conscience" explain some of Tom's fears and nightmares and the "chronic misery" of keeping his secret about the murder?