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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 1 | Summary



Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and half-brother, Sidney, in the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri. In the novel's opening scene, Tom's aunt finds him hiding in a closet with jam on his face, proof that he's broken a rule. She worries that she isn't doing "her duty by him" and notes that he's "full of the Old Scratch" (the devil), but she also admits that his antics amuse her.

Tom plays hooky and goes swimming, but he covers up his actions by resewing his shirt collar, which he would have had to detach to remove the shirt. It seems as if he'll get away with it until his brother points out that the thread color is wrong. After noting that he's going to get his revenge on Sid, Tom goes out and ends up in a quarrel with another boy. Tom wins his fight, sneaks back into his house, and is caught by Aunt Polly. His punishment is to spend his Saturday working for her.


St. Petersburg, Missouri, is closely influenced by Twain's childhood home of Hannibal, Missouri. The town was situated along the Mississippi River, and the experiences that Twain had there in his own life appear in the text in fictional ways. As revealed in both Twain's letters and the autobiography he dictated in the first decade of the 1900s, people and events in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer were drawn directly from Twain's childhood in Missouri. While The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not truly autobiographical, Twain used his experiences to create both this novel and another of his novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Twain revealed that his brother Henry was the basis of Sid in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the event with the thread color of Tom's collar was drawn from Twain's life. He makes a point to tell readers that "Henry was a very much finer and better boy than Sid ever was." Tom's antics in this opening chapter give readers a sense of his cleverness and troublemaking tendencies and of Aunt Polly's affection and ineffectual concern for him.

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