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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

Tom joins the Cadets of Temperance. He promises to "abstain from smoking, chewing and profanity." The difficulty is that now that he promised not to do these things, he wants to do them. However, the Cadets' fancy uniform is also tempting. He waits, hoping for a funeral so that he would have the opportunity to wear it, but his patience expires, and he quits. Instantly he discovers that although he is free of his promise, he no longer wants to break those rules: "The simple fact that he could, took he desire away."

In a brief mention, the reader learns that Becky is absent. Not long after this, Tom comes down with the measles. While he's sick, there is a revival. When he recovers, Tom finds that all of his friends are "saved." Tom has a relapse, and when he recovers a second time, his friends are back to themselves: "Poor lads! They—like Tom—had suffered a relapse."

Analysis

As with many comedic sections in the novel, this chapter seemingly does not advance the plot. However, what is highlighted through both the Cadets and the revival is that the society in which Tom lives has a number of control measures to help the community adhere to good behavior. Tom, as is typical of the protagonist of a boy book, struggles with the rules. Many of his companions do, too. What makes taboo acts (drinking, smoking, and vulgar language) appealing, according to Twain's narrator, is the fact that they are forbidden rather than inherently appealing. Tom's experience—desperately wanting to do them when they are forbidden but no longer wanting to do them once he is allowed—implies that it is not, in fact, the revival or youth groups that enable a person to resist temptation.

Arguably, this is supported by Becky's theft of Mr. Dobbins's anatomy book earlier in the novel. The teacher kept the book hidden, and its status as a forbidden object meant that as soon as Becky saw the chance to access it, she did. This is the same tactic Tom purposefully uses when convincing boys to whitewash the fence. (He denies Ben the opportunity until Ben pays for the privilege.)

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