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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 2: The Glorious Whitewasher
For his previous day's escapades, Aunt Polly decides to punish Tom. On a glorious summer Saturday, Tom appears outside with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. His task for the day is to whitewash the thirty yard long, nine-foot high fence. The thought of having to work when everybody else is having a wonderful time makes Tom sad, as if his whole world has come to an end. Taking a deep and dejected sigh, he picks up his brush and begins work. Soon, the Negro boy Jim appears with his pail on his way to fetch water from the pump. Tom calls out to him and tries to trade places with him, although he has always thought that fetching water from the pump was the cruelest chore in the world. Jim declines by saying that the "old Missis" had specifically instructed him not to fool around but get the water fast. Tom tries to convince him, and almost succeeds until Aunt Polly appears on the scene and Jim takes to his heels.
Ben Rogers, a friend of Tom, skips by while eating an apple. Pretending to be the skipper of the Big Missouri, Ben stops right in front of Tom; but Tom feigns to be engrossed in his work, surveying it critically. Ben waits for Tom to acknowledge his presence, which he finally does, with a look of surprise on his face. When Ben teases Tom about his work, Tom retorts by saying that one does not get to paint a fence everyday. Soon Ben is begging Tom to let him try his hand at it. Tom is thrilled at this turn of events, but cleverly tells his friend he is having too much fun to share. Ben then offers to trade his apple for a chance to do some whitewashing, and Tom, with an outward show of reluctance, gives up the brush. He sits on a barrel under the shade of a tree and plots to trap more of his friends. The boys troop in one after another to make fun of Tom and end up parting with their treasure and whitewashing the fence. Tom has a wonderful, idle time while the fence gets three coats of paint.
This chapter has one of the most famous and charming of Tom's adventures --- the whitewashing of the fence. In the scene, the reader is introduced to Tom in the presence of his friends for the first time. Tom is all-boy and a bit lazy and does not want to spend a glorious summer Saturday whitewashing the fence. He will do anything, including bribing his friends and lying, in order to avoid the painful ordeal. One of the worst things about the chore to Tom is that his friends will all come by and tease him for working on a Saturday. He dreads being caught in this "comprising" situation of appearing to be an obedient and helpful child. Therefore, when Jim comes by on his way to the village pump to get water, Tom offers to trade chores with him; Tom truly does not want to whitewash the fence, for before now, pumping water is to him the cruelest of all tasks. The appearance of Aunt Polly to check on Tomís progress frightens Jim away and spoils Tomís plans. Being persistent, however, he does not give up; instead, Tom hatches a clever plan to trick his friends into doing the whitewashing for him. He convinces them all that painting the fence is thrillingly fun, and a task that he will not easily give up; Tom is a good actor and obviously brighter than his friends, for they trade him treasures for the privilege of helping out. By the end of the day, the clever Tom has three coats of paint on the fence without ever lifting a hand to help.
Many of Tomís characteristics are revealed in this whitewashing adventure. It is apparent that Tom is a very emotional child. At the beginning of the chapter and in stark contract to the beautiful summer day, he is feeling miserable and dejected, as if his world is coming to an end; by the end of the day, however, he is feeling overjoyed and proud, as if he is in control of the world. Tom also displays his cleverness throughout the incident; he carefully plans out how he will deceive his friends and escape the pain of whitewashing. His reasons for doing so are twofold; he does not want to work, since he is basically a lazy, carefree boy, and he does not want to be teased by his friends for working, so he lies and says he loves what he is doing. He thoroughly enjoys his success, and sits under the shade of a tree laughing to himself about his brilliant plan as he watches his friends eagerly painting. The reader laughs with Tom; although he is a scoundrel, Mark Twain succeeds in making him extremely likable.