Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 12: The Cat and the Painkiller
Tom is temporarily distracted from his troubles when Becky stops coming to school. He tries to find out the reason for her absence by hanging around her house. He finally learns that she is ill and begins to worry that she may die. He is so concerned about Becky that he stops playing and loses interest in everything. His quiet behavior causes Aunt Polly to be concerned about him. An experimenter at heart, Polly tries all sorts of remedies on Tom in an effort to cure him, but nothing seems to work. She reads her Health magazines to look for additional things to try and discovers the water treatment cure that makes a person sweat so much it purifies his soul. When she tries this on Tom, he just becomes more sad and melancholic.
Tom is so forlorn that he does not even protest against the torture that he is being put through; his silence bothers his aunt even more. She decides that Tomís indifference must definitely be broken. She orders a new painkiller, which she immediately administers to her nephew. Tom has decided that he has indulged himself enough and will endure no more. He pretends to like the horrible painkiller that tastes like fire water, and asks his aunt for a dose so frequently that she tells Tom to take it for himself. While Aunt Polly is not looking, he pours the medicine in a crack in the sitting room floor. His auntís cat comes into the room one day when he is in the act of filling the crack with the medicine. Tom takes a spoonful of the painkiller and gives it to the cat. When the cat swallows it, it jumps in the air and bangs itself against the furniture. It topples the flowerpots and jumps out of the window, leaving behind a mess. Aunt Polly is struck dumb at the catís antics. When she comes to question Tom about the cat, she finds him rolling in laughter. She discovers the spoon with traces of medicine still sticking to it. She pulls Tom up by his ear and asks him why he gave the painkiller to the cat. Tom replies that he gave it to the cat out of pity, for he himself had been receiving all of Aunt Pollyís attention, while the cat was being ignored. She pats Tom on the head and tells him that she did whatever she thought was best for him.
Tom goes to school early in hopes that Becky may return. At first there is no sign of her, but then she suddenly appears at the gate. Tom runs out of the classroom to go and meet her and is laughing and shouting as he reaches her side. Becky, however, pays him no attention. Then Tom literally throws himself at her feet, almost toppling her. She turns her nose up in the air, snorts, and goes her way, leaving Tom looking sheepishly after her.
In this chapter, Twain gives Tom a temporary respite from his guilt. Becky Thatcher is ill and cannot attend school. Tom is miserable when he does not see her and worries that she may die. He grows silent and morose, which worries Aunt Polly. As a result, she gives him all sorts of medicines to try and cure him. One day, Tom gives some of his medicine to Aunt Pollyís cat, Peter. The cat goes crazy, jumping around the room and disrupting the furniture. When his aunt comes to investigate, Tom tells her that he gave the medicine to the cat out of pity as it did not have an aunt of its own to take care of it. The subtle message that Tom delivers is not lost on his aunt. She immediately realizes her folly and stops administering medicines to him.
Tom goes back to school. He is delighted that Becky is back. She, however, does not even care to acknowledge his presence. Even when he makes a fool out of himself for her sake, he is spurned, making him more miserable than ever.
This chapter is filled with typical Twain humor. Tomís sadness over Beckyís not being at school and his worries about her death are intentionally exaggerated to the point of being humorous. Aunt Pollyís experimentation on Tom is also out of proportion and causes the reader to laugh. Tomís incident with the cat is also filled with humor, even though he uses it to teach Aunt Polly a lesson. Finally, when Tom literally throws himself at Beckyís feet, Twain creates a humorous visual image of an overactive young man in love. Becky, however, does not laugh; she turns her nose upward and completely snubs the broken- hearted Tom.
It is important to notice that a new side of Aunt Polly is reveled in this chapter. She is neurotic about health, subscribing to and reading several medical magazines. She also eagerly tries out all sorts of quack medicines on poor Tom. Becky, however, is seen in the same light as previously presented by Twain. She is stubborn and unforgiving.