As Tom begins the dreaded task of whitewashing, he sees Ben Rogers approaching. When Ben teases Tom about not being able to go swimming and being forced to work, Tom points out that it is not exactly work if he is enjoying himself, and he makes a great show of applying whitewash and then stepping back to admire his own effects. When Ben wants to try his hand at whitewashing, Tom pretends to be reluctant until Ben offers him first the core of the apple and then the entire apple. Other boys show up--boys who "came to jeer, but remained to whitewash," and by the middle of the afternoon, the fence is whitewashed (by the other boys), and Tom finds himself a rich man, having collected marbles, a part of a Jew's harp, a kite, and many other items as payment from the boys doing the work.
In this chapter, Tom reveals his basic knowledge of human psychology; that is, that a person most desires what cannot be easily attained. Tom is also a fine actor, and he cleverly uses this ability in handling his friends. Thus, Tom is able to use this basic understanding of human nature to get others to do his work for him and to pay for the privilege of doing it. Instead of being able to join the others at the town center, he brings the center of the town to him, has others do his work for him, and he ends up with all sorts of treasures. In this way, Twain reveals Tom as a natural leader. Throughout the novel, we will see that Tom is the leader; it will always be "Tom Sawyer's gang;" it is always Tom's ideas of what game to play; and Tom is always the winner in games as well as in fights with his peers. He is also usually the winner in his conflicts with the adult world.
The reader is constantly reminded that this is a child's world. Tom tries to make a game out of everything; Aunt Polly's slave, Jim, is fascinated with Tom's sore toe; and Ben Rogers arrives pretending that he is a steamboat on the Missouri River. The wealth or loot the boys offer to Tom is ludicrous and silly and of no worth except to boys of their age.
Note that the occasional and brief appearances of Jim--and other slaves throughout the work--serve to remind the reader that this is slave territory. Slavery never becomes a significant theme in this work--Twain, of course, saved that for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--however the awareness of the slave environment is important.
whitewash a mixture of lime, whiting, size, water, etc., for whitening walls and other surfaces.
white Alley An alley is a fine marble used as the shooter in playing marbles.
bully taw An excellent marble. A taw is a fancy marble used to shoot with in playing marbles.
Big Missouri the name often applied to the Missouri River; also the name of a large steam ship often seen in Hannibal, Missouri.
"labboard" and "stabboard" Ben Rogers means to say "larboard," the left-hand side of a ship as one faces forward (port) and "starboard," the right-hand side of a ship as one faces forward. His mis-usage suggests his ignorance of the steamboat.