The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide." Course Hero. 17 May 2017. Web. 24 Sep. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, May 17). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide." May 17, 2017. Accessed September 24, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study Guide," May 17, 2017, accessed September 24, 2023,

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Quotes


Spare the rod and spile [spoil] the child, as the Good Book says. I'm a laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know. He's full of Old Scratch ... but he's my own dead sister's boy.

Aunt Polly, Chapter 1

Aunt Polly looks to her religious scriptures for guidance to figure out how to best raise her nephews, Tom and Sid. At the same time, she's trying to find a line between discipline and kindness.

She says he's full of "Old Scratch" (the devil), so she wants to get the mischief and sin out of the boy. She refers to physical punishment (the rod), but she also feels pity for Tom and knows that the loss of a mother is a hard thing to bear.


They said they would rather be outlaws for a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.

Narrator, Chapter 8

Tom, Joe, and Huck all play at being robbers throughout the novel, although their ideas of outlaw life are very different from the reality. Robin Hood, a robber with ethics, is a favorite. Elsewhere, Tom points out that there are rules for treatment of women during robberies; there are also guidelines for seeking treasure.

These are noble criminals who follow a code of conduct, unlike Injun Joe who does not. However, they still have freedom.


Next the ghastly ticking of the death-watch in the wall at the bed's head made Tom shudder—it meant that somebody's days were numbered.

Narrator, Chapter 9

The novel is filled with superstitions, portents, and omens. Often these are dire and death-related. In this case a beetle is an omen of death. Their numbered days are being counted off by the insect.


Then he robbed the body. After which he put the fatal knife in Potter's open right hand, and sat down on the dismantled coffin.

Narrator, Chapter 9

Injun Joe's lack of morals and lack of guilt both are highlighted here. He is calm enough to sit and wait. He's easy with murder, with lying, and with letting another man hang for his crimes.


She found that the medicine did really diminish, but it did not occur to her that the boy was mending the health of a crack in the sitting-room floor with it.

Narrator, Chapter 12

Aunt Polly trusts Tom to take the medicine, but she knows him well enough to check on him, too. This is the duality of her parenting of Tom, wanting to trust him while being reminded by history to mistrust him.


He moped in the school-yard wishing she were a boy, and imagining how he would trounce her if she were.

Narrator, Chapter 20

Becky's rejection of Tom leaves him at a loss. He's accustomed to people bending to his will, and when things don't go his way, he's more than willing to resort to fighting. However, Becky is a girl. Therefore, according to the social norms of the day, the rules are different. He has the same feelings but no way to express them because boys should not hit girls.


Now he found out a new thing—namely, that to promise not to do a thing is the surest way to make a body want to go and do that very thing.

Narrator, Chapter 22

Tom's experience with the Cadets of Temperance shows how restrictions make a thing more or less appealing. Smoking, cussing, and drinking only appeal to Tom when he's not allowed to do them. When he is allowed, they are no longer tempting.


As usual, the fickle, unreasoning world took Muff Potter to its bosom and fondled him as lavishly as it had abused him before.

Narrator, Chapter 24

The narrator here highlights how fluid the attitudes of rejection and acceptance from the village are. Muff hasn't changed, but their attitude toward Muff Potter has completely reversed. The novel offers other examples of the complete reversal of attitude, such as how Tom is treated by Aunt Polly, Becky, or even Mr. Walters.


One of those omniscient and awe-inspiring marvels, a detective, came up from St. Louis, moused around, shook his head, looked wise and made that sort of astounding success which members of the craft usually achieve.

Narrator, Chapter 24

This section offers a wink to the popular detective stories of Twain's era. Wilkie Collins's novels (1860s) and Poe's short fiction (1840s) were the earliest detective fiction in English. Twain's novel (1876) was published after these, but Twain speaks to the popularity of the detective figure in the late 19th century.


There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.

Narrator, Chapter 25

This novel is a boyhood adventure story. Treasure hunting, like playing Robin Hood or pirates, is part of that genre.


Spirits whispered in the rustling leaves, ghosts lurked in the murky nooks, the deep baying of a hound floated up out of the distance, an owl answered with his sepulchral note.

Narrator, Chapter 25

Although this is a children's story, Twain's penchant for descriptive writing comes through powerfully at moments. Twain had early success as a travel writer, and he was skilled at immersing a reader in a location. Here that descriptive skill is used to evoke the same spooky setting as the Gothic novels that were still popular in Europe at the time.


He likes me becuz I don't ever act as if I was above him.

Huck Finn, Chapter 28

Huck's pronouncement on slavery reveals an awareness of a critical issue that was significantly ahead of its time. Missouri, where Twain lived initially, was a slave state, but it was atypical in numerous ways. Twain's own attitude toward slavery was more in keeping with the North, and Twain continued to represent the topic of slavery in a way that sets his novels apart from much of Southern literature.


Tom kissed her ... and made a show of being confident of finding the searchers or an escape from the cave.

Narrator, Chapter 31

While stranded and weakened, Becky and Tom share a kiss. This is, theoretically, a boy's story, but in instances such as this the readers can see that Tom is maturing. He not only comforts Becky, but also projects an image of confidence at odds with his feelings.


That drop was falling when the Pyramids were new ... it will still be falling when all these things shall have sunk down the afternoon of history.

Narrator, Chapter 33

When Injun Joe's body is found in the cave, it appears that he had been trying to collect water dripping from a stalactite to avoid dehydration. Injun Joe's life and death are rendered inconsequential in the face of all the history the formations in the cave have weathered.


No, Tom, I won't be rich, and I won't live in them cussed smothery houses.

Huck Finn, Chapter 35

Huck is willing to sacrifice the modern equivalent of well over $100,000 because it brings restrictions with it.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!