The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 20 | Summary



Strengthened by Aunt Polly's affection the next morning, Tom apologizes to Becky. She is not as quick to forgive and rebuffs him. He is once more dejected.

Becky spies the key to Mr. Dobbins's desk and steals the book he is often studying. That book is an anatomy book, and when she opens it, she sees "a human figure, stark naked." Tom catches her with the book, and in her haste to hide it, she rips the book. In her guilt and fear over punishment, Becky yells at Tom, who is perplexed by her reaction to the possibility of getting in trouble. He claims responsibility for the theft and, in doing so, finally regains Becky's affection.


Becky's interest in Mr. Dobbins's book and Mr. Dobbins's keeping the book under lock and key reflect the 19th-century debates about human anatomy. On one hand study of the body was considered improper, but on the other hand the medical community understood that knowledge of anatomy was crucial. Human anatomy was a source of increasing public fascination, while still taboo—hence Becky's fear of punishment.

Becky's forgiveness of Tom is tied directly to his willingness to accept her punishment. While she does not ask him to do so, his actions buy her forgiveness after the andiron knob, his attempts at making her jealous, and even his apologies do not. Significantly, he does not volunteer in order to manipulate her but because her worry over being caught and punished for her actions weighs on him. This—like leaving the note for Aunt Polly—is a step in Tom's maturation.

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