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SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Twain’s novel about Tom Sawyer is an adventure story. The young protagonist gets involved in one adventure after another, often bringing heartache to his guardian Aunt Polly. Every time, Tom gets away with fooling her, she is stricken by her conscience for not doing a better job of raising her nephew. When Tom has played yet another of his innumerable tricks on her, she decides to take action and punish him. His punishment is to whitewash the fence. Tom very cleverly tricks his friends into doing the work for him while he has a wonderful, idle time watching them labor.
Tom is friends with the town’s vagabond, Huckleberry (Huck) Finn. Together, they witness the murder of Dr. Robinson in the graveyard, where they had gone for a midnight adventure. The murderer, Injun Joe, implicates Muff Potter as the guilty party and escapes himself. As they are the only two witnesses to the murder and they don’t report it to the Sheriff, they are troubled by their conscience. They fear that if they do come forward with the truth about the murder, Injun Joe will take revenge on them. However, at the trial (later in the novel), Tom reveals who the real murderer is.
When he is wrongly punished by Aunt Polly and Becky rejects his overtures of love, Tom feels dejected and decides to run away from home, along with Huck and Joe Harper. They hide on Jackson’s Island and soon grow homesick; but they are too proud to simply return to town. Tom, however, sneaks into town one night to find out the people’s reaction to their disappearance and also to leave a note for his aunt so that she is not unduly worried. During his visit, he discovers that the townspeople have almost given up on their ever returning and have decided to hold a funeral service in their honor on Sunday. Tom thinks that it would be a wonderful adventure to appear again during their own funeral service. They do just that, to the amazement of the entire town.
Tom, who is forever seeking adventure, decides one day that he is going to look for hidden treasure. He and Huck wind up in an abandoned house. They are trapped upstairs with the arrival of Injun Joe, who is masquerading as a deaf and dumb Spaniard. He has come with a friend to hide something under the dirt floor of the house. As they are in the process of hiding their loot, they dig up a box full of gold. Huck and Tom mutely watch them take the gold; the boys promise the steal the treasure away.
When school closes for vacation, there is a town picnic. The children go to explore the nearby caves, and Tom and Becky get lost in them. Tom finally finds a way out of the caves after being trapped inside for three days. He becomes a hero in everybody’s eyes, especially Becky’s. During the time that Tom is trapped in the cave, Huck has an adventure of his own. He saves the life of Widow Douglas with the help of the Welshman Mr. Jones and his sons.
Once Tom recovers from his cave ordeal, he goes to visit Becky. While at her house, he learns that the Judge has sealed the mouth of the cave so that Injun Joe is trapped inside. When they go back to the cave to search for him, they discover that he has died of starvation. Now Tom feels free to search for the hidden treasure. With Huck’s help, he is victorious in finding the gold. Since there is no one to claim the gold, the boys are allowed to keep the treasure.