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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 21 | Summary



As vacation approaches, examination day arrives. Long, often florid poems are presented here, allowing the reader to experience the same tedium Tom does. He and his schoolmates counter their boredom by pranking Mr. Dobbins. The prank involves not only "gilding" Mr. Dobbins's head, but lowering a cat from the ceiling to snatch his wig so as to reveal his golden head.


One of the fascinating things Twain accomplishes in some of his most comic moments is inviting the reader into the schoolyard experience or the experience of being a child of Tom's age. Here, as in the chapters in the church or in the classroom, the reader is participating in Tom's life and emotions. Boredom? Restlessness? Impatience? Trying not to laugh at an inappropriate time? Almost everyone experiences these things at some point, and Twain evokes them effortlessly for the reader.

Twain notes in a gendered comment that "the right way to write a story for boys is to write it so that it will not only interest boys but will also strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy." As the reader has seen, there are also truths about society, human nature, and various other things that Twain blends into a story nominally for children. In Twain's hands the elements of the boy book become far more complex than one would expect in a simple adventure story for boys.

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