Summary and Analysis
Aunt Polly finds Tom in the pantry where he has been eating forbidden jam. As she gets a switch, Tom convinces her that something is behind her. As she turns, he escapes, leaving her to contemplate how he constantly plays tricks on her. She is concerned whether or not she is "doing her duty by him," but because he is her dead sister's child, she cannot bring herself to be harsh with him.
That afternoon, Tom plays hooky from school, and at supper that night, Aunt Polly tries to trap him into revealing that he skipped school. Tom is able to avert her questioning, until Sid, Tom's brother, squelches on him. Before Aunt Polly can say more, Tom escapes.
Heading into town, Tom meets a stranger, "a boy larger than himself" and dressed up like a "city slicker." He and Tom get into a fight. Tom gets the better of the other boy and follows him home. The boy's mother appears and calls Tom a "bad vicious, vulgar child" and orders him away. When Tom returns home with his clothes dirty and torn, Aunt Polly decides that, as punishment, he will lose his freedom on Saturday and will have to whitewash the fence.
The opening chapter begins dramatically with Aunt Polly frantically calling for "Tom el Tom el TOM." There can be no child, then as now, who has not heard a parent or guardian calling and has refused to answer; thus, Twain establishes a universal tone in this opening, especially because the caller is established as "The old lady" pulling "her spectacles down" and looking over them for Tom Sawyer.
This opening chapter with four distinct scenes sets the tone for the entire novel. The first scene creates the relationship between Tom and his Aunt Polly. She is a loving spinster aunt who is kind and simple and does not know how to control a young mischievous, strapping lad like Tom but who loves him dearly. "She was as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long, and so she was an easy victim." And thus, Tom takes advantage of her even though he loves her. This scene also reveals Tom's nature. He is the rascally boy out to confound and confuse any adult who tries to repress his youthful nature. He will be seen as quick-witted, full of fun, carefree, and self-willed, but always honorable and fair. This first scene shows these typical characteristics.
The second scene shows Tom playing hooky from school; a typical action for a boy of his age and one that causes him to often receive some type of punishment. Tom's character is developed around these events--the adventures, pranks, and scrapes he enters into willingly or unwillingly--and their consequences.
The third scene establishes the relationship between Tom and his half brother, Sid, a boy as unlike Tom as one can possibly imagine. Tom is the typical "bad boy" of Sunday school lessons who doesn't mind his elders, skips school, and plays tricks on people. Sid is the insipid "good boy" who minds all his elders and does everything expected of him. Sid delights in being a tattletale, in being a prig, and in getting Tom into trouble.
The fourth scene involves Tom's asserting his own turf in the presence of a newcomer, Alfred Temple. The "darings" (I dare you to el ) and the verbal sparrings lead to a fist fight that Tom wins. Tom is further contrasted to the well-dressed new boy because Tom fights fair while the new boy, when Tom turns his back, cowardly throws a stone and hits Tom.
In short, this first chapter firmly establishes Tom's relationship with his world: He is a child, doing things a child would do. He lives in a slave state. He has no parents, but has a loving, parent figure. And he is mischievous but good-natured.
"Spare the rod, and spile the child." "Spile" is southwestern dialect for "spoil." The saying is attributed by Aunt Polly to the Bible, and the original can be found in Proverbs 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." The wording that Aunt Polly uses comes from the seventeenth-century satirist, Samuel Butler (1612nd1680).
Old Scratch Another name for the devil.
Evening Southern and Southwestern for afternoon.
"'NUFF" A type of contraction for "enough" meaning that the defeated party has had enough of the fight and concedes victory.