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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Tom and Sid go to bed, but Tom sneaks out to meet Huck in the graveyard. Huck is there with his dead cat, and the boys wait for the devils to come and take away Hoss Williams. The boys hear visitors in the graveyard, but rather than devils, body snatchers arrive. Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and Dr. Robinson unearth a body.

Injun Joe begins threatening the doctor, who punches him. Muff Potter jumps in to defend Joe. In the fight, the doctor takes the headstone of the grave and strikes Potter unconscious. While Potter is down, Injun Joe fatally stabs Dr. Robinson and then puts the knife in Potter's hand.

Tom and Huck run away.

When Potter wakes up, Injun Joe tells him he ought to run. He fills in false details about what happened, claiming that Potter committed the murder, and Potter believes him.

Analysis

As with Sid and Aunt Polly, other characters in the novel are also drawn from Twain's life. Muff Potter was influenced by a "drunken tramp" who died "burned up in the village jail," according to Twain, and Injun Joe was based on a real person as well. The figure who threatens Tom in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also stood larger than life in Twain's real-life recollections. In the novel he is not presented as having any redeeming traits, and this chapter gives readers a first glimpse at his violence and vengefulness.

Significantly, the issue of grave robbing was a major concern during the 1800s (both in America and in Scotland). Surgeons required bodies for medical school, but there weren't enough available. A lack of bodies to use for dissection meant the understanding of anatomy was limited. On both sides of the Atlantic, this shortage resulted in grave robbing (as well as innovations to prevent grave robbing in some places). In Scotland this resulted in the infamous case of Burke and Hare, who murdered people in order to provide bodies.

Aside from the issue of body supply, the ethics of human dissection was highly debated. One side emphasized the sanctity of the body. The other side focused on the practical side of the issue: knowledge gained would enable better treatment of the living. Regardless of one's stance on dissections, stealing bodies and selling them was illegal.

The rest of the novel's action hinges on Tom and Huck's silent witness of the murder of Dr. Robinson. It's the hinge on which their childhood adventure-seeking swings into events that have grave real-life repercussions.

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