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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 4 | Summary



The next day, Sunday, Tom is to prepare the verses he was meant to have memorized. He hasn't done so, unlike Sid. After trying to quickly memorize them, Tom attempts to recite them to his cousin Mary. She encourages him by way of bribery, promising him a prize if he succeeds. He does so and is rewarded with a Barlow knife (a pocketknife). Shortly thereafter she convinces him to wash and tidy himself. Mary takes over and brushes his hair and convinces him to put on nicer clothes and even to wear shoes.

Tom goes to sabbath-school with Mary and Sid. Along the way, he proceeds to buy tickets from his classmates. These tickets are the result of successful recitation of verses, and with enough tickets, a student earns a prize.

The superintendent, Mr. Walters, appears and makes a speech. Present also are three guests, including Judge Thatcher. Mr. Walters and the teachers and students show off for the guests, and Mr. Walters wishes that he had a student with enough tickets to claim a prize. Then, shockingly, Tom goes forward with enough tickets to claim a prize. Those who know Tom are suspicious, but he still receives the prize.

Tom, for his part, is lost for words. The judge is Becky's father. Tom stutters at saying his own name. Then the judge asks Tom a question that he should be able to answer—the names of the first two disciples—but he obviously has no idea. Instead, he answers, "David and Goliath!"


As with several of the earlier incidents, Tom's ingenuity is again on display. He could work to earn the prize in the way the other students have done, but his plan is more complicated. He wants the prize, so he purchases the tickets from the children who have earned them by reciting their verses.

Twain makes sure the reader knows Tom is able to complete the task. When Mary offers him a reward for recitation, he is able to memorize and repeat the verses. However, he has chosen not to do so. The prize she offers (a knife) provides incentive. The prize offered at the school (the tickets) does not. Tom's interest is in winning the bigger, more coveted prize, and he does so by gaming the system. Tom is always thinking, always planning, and in this case that plan results in both a prize and embarrassment.

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