Course Hero. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide." Course Hero. 17 May 2017. Web. 4 June 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Adventures-of-Tom-Sawyer/>.
Course Hero. (2017, May 17). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Adventures-of-Tom-Sawyer/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide." May 17, 2017. Accessed June 4, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Adventures-of-Tom-Sawyer/.
Course Hero, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide," May 17, 2017, accessed June 4, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Adventures-of-Tom-Sawyer/.
While at church, Tom spends his time watching the congregants rather than paying attention to the service. Through his observations, the reader gets a glimpse of villagers who do not figure otherwise into the story (the belle of the village, for example, and the "Model Boy" who takes "heedful care of his mother as if she were cut glass"). The minister's sermon ("when the lion and the lamb should lie down together and a little child should lead them") catches Tom's interest but only in the sense that he wishes he could be the child to lead a lion.
Tom's interest shifts to a beetle, a so-called "pinch-bug." Along with other congregants, Tom watches the beetle, especially when a poodle wanders in and studies the beetle. By the end of the sermon the poodle sits on the beetle, which pinches him, and the entire church is "red-faced and suffocating with suppressed laughter."
The novel has both action-driven chapters that advance the plot and chapters such as this one that provide character and comic sketches. This chapter highlights many members of the village we do not see regularly. As is common in Southern literature (as with William Faulkner, who set several novels in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County), the world of the novel is larger than the cast of characters. Twain's descriptions here show us vibrant character types whose presence hints at their own stories: a beautiful girl with numerous men trying to catch her attention, the "Model Boy" with his mother.
Also, a glimpse of the characters in the church makes clear that the main characters of the story are not the focus of the village. An entire community beyond the main characters exists in St. Petersburg. The orphan and his aunt, the son of a drunk, and the newcomers are not the center of the community. Twain doesn't suggest that Tom and Aunt Polly, Huck Finn, and the Thatchers are outsiders, but they are not prominent members of the community. Tom is not interacting with the villagers seen in the church, either in this scene or the previous scenes. Neither is Huck. The characters the reader has met thus far in the novel live in the village, but Twain points out to the reader here that village life is much larger than them.