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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 3 | Summary



Tom reports to Aunt Polly to let her know the chore is done. Not surprisingly, she doubts him. When she sees that the work is completed, she praises Tom and rewards him with an apple and an "improving lecture" and quote from the Bible. Tom also steals a doughnut on the way out and throws a clod of dirt at Sid in revenge for pointing out the thread to Aunt Polly.

In good spirits, Tom heads to the public square to meet his friends for a game of war. He and his friend Joe Harper each lead one "army." After their game Tom leaves and sees Becky Thatcher for the first time in the garden of a school friend. Becky is Tom's love interest from this moment forward, and he tries to impress her by performing a series of gymnastic maneuvers while ignoring her. She tosses a pansy to him before going inside. Tom is in such a good mood when he returns home that Aunt Polly's lecture for "clodding" Sid and her knuckle raps for stealing sugar do not lessen his happiness. Sid is not punished for the same crime.

Once Aunt Polly is no longer in the room, Sid again steals sugar, but this time he breaks the bowl. Aunt Polly assumes Tom is guilty and strikes him for it. When he points out that he's innocent, she pauses for a moment before asserting that he was surely guilty of something else she didn't know.


As with the incident with the shirt collar in Chapter 1, both the clodding and the sugar-stealing are also drawn from Twain's own life. Twain wrote, "Henry never stole sugar. He took it openly from the bowl. His mother knew he wouldn't take sugar when she wasn't looking, but she had her doubts about me. Not her doubts, either. She knew very well that I would." Twain goes on to explain that on the day when Henry broke the sugar bowl, he waited and "allowed the silence to work." However, instead of having a chance to say that Henry was to blame, Twain's silence was greeted by his mother striking him. When he pointed out his innocence, his mother—like Aunt Polly in the novel—noted, "It isn't any matter. You deserve for something you've done that I didn't know about; and if you haven't done it, why then you deserve for something that you're going to do."

Aunt Polly is presented as someone who is susceptible to deception but also shrewd when it comes to Tom's behavior, as Becky is later in the novel. She is aware that Tom lies and regularly makes choices that lead to trouble, but she also continues to trust in his goodness.

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