Summary and Analysis Chapters 15-16



Tom sneaks back to his house in St. Petersburg and overhears Aunt Polly making plans for his funeral. Aunt Polly commiserates with Mrs. Harper (Joe's mother), both agreeing that the boys were "mischievous el giddy el and harum-scarum" but they never meant any real harm. Both women regret that the last things the boys heard from them were reprimands. Although tempted to dash out and reveal himself (the theatrical nature of such a revelation appeals to him), Tom restrains himself. Instead of leaving the note as he planned, Tom leaves with the note still in his pocket and returns to the island where he, Joe, and Huck continue their adventures. Eventually, Joe Harper becomes homesick and, despite Tom's ridicule, he starts home. Huck, who has no home, also desires to return to his customary haunts. After all else fails, Tom reveals to them his secret plans, and the other boys decide to remain.

That night, the boys are awakened by an approaching, driving storm. They take shelter under the inland tent until the tent blows away. Then they huddle together under an oak tree. After the fierceness of the storm abates, they return to their camp and find it destroyed. They realize that could have been killed had they remained in their camp.


Chapter 15 presents Tom's journey back to the village. The fact that it takes all night and is physically an arduous trip suggests something of Tom's physical maturity and his mature ability to undertake such a venture. The main import of the chapter is Tom's overhearing Aunt Polly and Mrs. Harper discuss his and Joe's disappearance along with Mary's good words and Sid's attempts to say something negative. Hearing himself praised as being a basically good but mischievous person, Tom "began to have a nobler opinion of himself." He wants to reveal himself but "the theatrical gorgeousness of the thing appealed to him." As the scene continues, Tom is emotionally drained by Aunt Polly's grief, but he still constrains himself.

In this scene, Twain has Tom hide in order to overhear a conversation about himself. This technique was often used in dramas at the time. Traditionally, the character would hide behind a screen and listen to the conversations of others; hence, such scenes were called "screen scenes." Chapter 15 fits into this category.

Tom's concern and love for his Aunt Polly is seen in the fact that he makes the trip into the village to leave her a note telling her that he is safe. His love for the theatrical, however, and his anticipation of his dramatic return to life, overshadow the more humane concerns for her grief. Here, the thoughtlessness of youth and Tom's selfish desire for amusement at the expense of the genuine grief of his Aunt Polly are difficult to understand.

After Tom returns to the island, the three boys live an idyllic life that consists of fishing, hunting, and playing games. In this way, Twain creates an idyllic picture of the world of young boys, a world longed for and dreamed about, a world of carefree, imaginative play--and a world that cannot last. This idyllic world is, literally in this chapter, the "calm before the storm." After having presented the peaceful, sunny days of an ideal existence, the calm is shattered by the storm. The fear the boys feel is evident as they cling to one another; that their fear is justified is evident in the destruction and havoc that the storm causes to their temporary camp. The contrast between the wild storm and the peaceful, sunny days shows that even an idyllic spot can be dangerous and harsh.

The difference between Tom and his friends clearly shows why Tom is always the leader of the group. Joe is the first to express his dependence on this family and wants to return home. Even Huck, who has no home, misses his old haunts and agrees with Joe. Thus Tom is the leader who constantly encourages Joe and Huck when they are lonely, suggesting new games to play and finding new occupations for them.


Yawl a small, two-masted sailing vessel usually manned by four to six oarsmen and used for duties for which a larger vessel could not maneuver.

knucks, ring-taw, and keeps types of games played with marbles.

Six Nations the five Indian nations (Mohawks, Oneidas, Onandagas, Cayugas, and Senecas as a group) of the Iroquois confederacy plus the Tuscaroras.

Back to Top