The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain: Summary, Characters & Analysis

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

During this lesson, we will learn about Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by studying an overview of both the plot and the main characters. We will also analyze the events that occur in the story.

Summary of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Someone reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer today might be familiar with the character of Tom Sawyer from another novel by Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, eight years before The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more frequently taught in high schools.

Tom Sawyer is a troublemaker. After Tom gets in trouble, he is ordered by Aunt Polly, with whom he lives, to whitewash their fence. When his friends see him painting the fence, Tom pretends that he loves the chore to make his friends jealous. They beg him to let them help. This is a prime example of the type of trouble Tom Sawyer is always getting up to.

Part of the novel is devoted to Tom's romance with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town. They like each other, but Becky is hurt when she finds out that Tom liked someone else before her. Eventually, he takes the blame for a book she ruined, making her like him again.

Tom is always getting into trouble, usually with his friend, Huckleberry Finn. Together they sneak out to a graveyard at night, where they witness Injun Joe murder Dr. Robinson. Tom, Huck, and their friend, Joe Harper, run away for a little while, making the town think they are dead. Eventually they come back, though, and Tom testifies against Injun Joe in court.

Afterward, Injun Joe runs away, and Tom is terrified for his life. His terror does not stop him from making trouble, though. While he and Huck are hunting for treasure one night, they discover that Injun Joe, who is disguised as a deaf-mute Spaniard, has treasure of his own to bury. Huck agrees to spy on Injun Joe to see where he buries the treasure, while Tom goes on a picnic with his class to McDougal's Cave. During the picnic, Tom and Becky wander off and get lost.

Huck figures out that Injun Joe plans on hurting Widow Douglas. He reports the crime, and Injun Joe runs away to McDougal's Cave. Meanwhile, Tom and Becky are lost for several days in the cave. Eventually they stumble across Injun Joe but hide before he sees them. Shortly after, Tom figures out how to get out of the cave with Becky. He tells Judge Thatcher about Injun Joe being inside, and the town decides to seal Injun Joe inside the cave.

Later, Tom returns to the cave, where he discovers Injun Joe's starved corpse. Shortly thereafter, he and Huck discover where Injun Joe hid his gold. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, who is unhappy about this development. Tom convinces him to give it a try, promising that it won't stop them from getting up to the occasional mischief.

Characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer is the main character. A troublemaker, but he is a good boy when it counts.

Aunt Polly is the sister of Tom's deceased mother. She takes care of Tom and his brother, Sid. She is religious, yet cares deeply for Tom. Mary is Tom's cousin. She is a good girl and stands up for Tom, even when he is a troublemaker. Sid is Tom's half-brother. He frequently tells Aunt Polly when Tom misbehaves.

The star of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry Finn, is raised by his father, Pap Finn, an abusive drunk who does not care if he goes to church or school.

Joe Harper runs away with Tom and Huck to the island after they witness the murder in the graveyard. All three boys return to town before too long. Becky Thatcher and Amy Lawrence are two girls in Tom's class. When Becky moves to town, Tom decides he loves her instead of Amy.

Injun Joe is the main bad guy of the novel. He is part Native American. He murders Dr. Robinson and tries to hurt Widow Douglas. He dies when the town seals off the cave.

Muff Potter is a drunk man Injun Joe convinces to take the fall for him. Tom saves Muff by pointing the finger at Injun Joe during the trial. Dr. Robinson is murdered by Injun Joe. He wanted to dig up a corpse to experiment on it medically. The Widow Douglas is a kind religious lady. She adopts Huck at the end of the novel. Judge Thatcher is Becky Thatcher's father. He seals off the cave and traps Injun Joe inside.

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