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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
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The story of Tom's courtship of Becky overlaps that of Injun Joe's fate in this chapter. And Huck proves himself not only brave but also capable of risking his own neck to help others.

Becky's family has returned to town, and Becky is once more Tom's main interest. Friday, they play games of tag ("hi-spy" and "gully-keeper") with schoolmates, and Becky convinces her mother to let her host a picnic the next day.

The picnic trip begins late Saturday morning. The Thatchers have hired an old steamboat to take the children and their chaperones three miles down the river to eat lunch and frolic. Sid can't go because he is sick, and Mary stays home to care for him. Because the boat is expected to return late, Becky's mother suggests she stay at Susy Harper's house near the ferry landing.

Tom has another plan. He wants to go to the Widow Douglas' house for ice cream after the picnic. He persuades Becky to agree to the plan and tries to forget the fact that Huck might need him.


Observe throughout this chapter how seemingly insignificant details end up being important to the story. Episodic as Twain's narrative is, it is intricately interrelated. Sid and Mary's absence and Becky's intention to stay at the Harpers' are essential details, as you will see. Introducing the Widow Douglas-by name and reputation-prepares you for action that takes place in the second part of the chapter.

The ferryboat lets the children off three miles downstream. They explore McDougal's cave, an enormous, labyrinthine system of chambers too vast for anyone to know completely. Tom has explored it many times before and knows it as well as anyone.


Twain didn't invent this cave. It actually exists south of Hannibal and was called McDowell's cave when Twain was a child. McDowell was a surgeon from St. Louis who once stored weapons there in a plot to invade Mexico. For a number of years he experimented there with the body of a fourteen-year- old said to be his daughter. He stored the body in a copper cylinder filled with alcohol in order to see if the body would turn to stone in the limestone cave.

The children split up into groups and reassemble outside the cave at nightfall. The ferry, which has been waiting an hour for its passengers, finally pushes off and moves upstream for home.

Huck is at his post outside the tavern when he sees the ferry go by. Uninvited to the picnic, he wonders for a moment what the boat is. Near midnight, two men leave room No. 2 and brush past him. One is carrying a box that Huck assumes to be the treasure. Despite his fears, he follows the men up Cardiff Hill in hopes of spotting them burying the treasure.

Near the Widow Douglas' house, the men stop. Huck is terrified. He shakes as if taken by "a dozen agues" (fevers).

Injun Joe is upset to find the widow's lights on, because she may have company. Is it Tom and Becky? You won't find out until the next chapter.

Huck realizes that Joe intends to seek revenge on the widow. Although she has been kind to Huck, he doesn't dare call out a warning to her for fear he'll get killed.

Whether she has company or not, Joe intends to get his revenge. The widow's late husband was the judge who jailed him on the vagrancy charges that Dr. Robinson's father brought. Worse, in Joe's eyes, was that the judge had ordered him horse-whipped in public like a slave.


Some readers explain Joe's evil as a reaction to racial injustice. They point out that this "half-breed," as Twain identifies him, suffered rejection and public humiliation by the whites of St. Petersburg. This harsh treatment, they argue, made Joe determined to seek revenge from his tormentors. You may reject this interpretation. However, Tom Sawyer does reveal Twain's interest in race as a social problem-a major theme in his later novels. Note, for example, the contrast between Joe's treatment by the elder Dr. Robinson and Huck's treatment by Uncle Jake. The white man chased the "half-breed" away from his kitchen while the black man shared his food with the poor white boy. What do you think Twain is saying by making this contrast?

Injun Joe doesn't want to kill the widow. He wants to mutilate her face-"slit her nostrils [and] notch her ears."

Huck holds his breath and slips away. What a wonderfully detailed description Twain gives of Huck's departure. You might want to read it aloud to appreciate how efficiently Twain meshes action and emotion here.

Halfway, down the hill, Huck bangs on the Welshman's door. He awakens the old man and his two sons. Notice how careful he is to protect himself. He makes them promise not to reveal the source of their information. In minutes, the three men are up the hill with their guns. Huck hangs back. When the guns go off, he turns and flees down the hill.


Is Huck's emerging ability to think beyond his own safety a sign of his growing maturity? Some readers think so. Whether you agree or disagree, you will find support for your view in later chapters.

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

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