The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 23 | Summary



The time comes for the trial of Muff Potter. Huck and Tom discuss it, wishing they could "get him out," but they promise each other to keep quiet about what they have seen. They continue to take Potter gifts, and he tells them how much he appreciates it. For two days the boys watch the trial. On the third day the prosecutor's repeated offers to "take the witness" are dismissed by Potter's lawyer. After the prosecution rests, the defense calls their surprise witness: Tom Sawyer. Tom tells what he saw, although the lawyer stops him before he can say Huck's name. Just as Tom is about to reveal Injun Joe as the killer, Injun Joe leaps up and flees.


Tom's guilt and an urge to do the right thing influence him to take the stand. In many ways this choice allows readers to see the novel as Tom's journey to adulthood. He knows the risks of honesty. Injun Joe is well established as a threat, and Muff Potter is equally well established as a criminal (albeit a much less frightening one). But Tom does not allow an innocent man to hang. He voluntarily goes to the attorney and offers his testimony. He makes that choice without pressure from outside forces, parental figures, community leaders (who have already judged Potter before his trial even began), or friends (who either don't know or want to keep silent). Tom independently offers his testimony.

However, Tom doesn't warn Huck of his intentions despite the fact that he's about to endanger him by telling the truth. The only reason Huck is not likely to be targeted is that the lawyer stops Tom from saying his name. Nonetheless, Tom is typically seen in the company of two boys—Huck and Joe Harper. He's not seen in anyone else's exclusive company for the entire novel, so when he admits on the stand that there was a second witness, it is likely that Injun Joe would have only two suspects if he watched Tom. Both Huck and Joe Harper are put at risk by Tom's testimony.

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