Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-18



It is a tranquil Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg, but there is no gaiety as the adults prepare for the boys' funerals. Becky Thatcher finds herself moping about the schoolyard, feeling very melancholy. She has nothing to remember Tom by, and she wishes she had the brass knob that she returned to him. On Sunday, the toll of the church bell calls the mourners to the funeral services. The eulogies begin, noting the rare promise of the lost lads, their sweet generous natures, their noble and beautiful actions, and their promise.

Suddenly, "there was a rustle in the gallery" and with the creaking of the door, the entire congregation rises and stares at the three boys alive and walking down the aisle, first Tom and then Joe followed by Huck in his "drooping rags." Aunt Polly smothers Tom with affection; she even embraces Huck Finn. The minister leads the congregation with hymns of praise. For the rest of the day, Tom receives more "cuffs and kisses" than he has received in a year.

At school, Tom has become a great hero, and the young children follow him about in a sort of adoration. Tom and Joe are both envied and admired by their peers and they become conceited and swaggering. Tom decides that fame and "glory" is quite enough for him and he doesn't need Becky's attention any more. When she arrives, he ignores her and pours special attention on Amy Lawrence. As Tom did earlier, Becky now tries to get Tom's attention by showing off, by inviting other children to her picnic. As Tom continues to ignore her, Becky decides to make Tom jealous and she seeks out the company of Alfred Temple.

Now, in spite of glory, Tom finds himself tormented, especially because he finds Amy's chattering and nonsense intolerable. At noon, Tom goes home because he does not want to see Becky enjoying Alfred's company. Becky soon becomes tired of Alfred, especially since Tom is not around to suffer, and she sends him on his way. For his part, Alfred realizes that he has been used, and, for revenge, he pours ink over Tom's book at the passage for the day's lesson. Becky glances into the schoolroom in time to witness Alfred's treachery, but she decides to let Tom be punished because of the way he treated her earlier.


These two chapters involve difficult questions appropriate to all humorists. That is, can a superb joke be a good one when it involves such intense suffering as Aunt Polly and Mrs. Harper endure? At what point does the comic element or the joke become one of bad taste. As a vibrant youth, Tom does not understand the true suffering he has caused: As is often true, he is more concerned with his own pleasures at the expense of adult feelings.

The great scene with the appearance of the boys alive at their own funeral is heightened by the many regrets of various characters: Becky is sorry she kept no memento of Tom and wishes she had retained the brass knob he had given her. The townspeople regret that they had not seen the potential of each boy. All Tom's playmates recall the last time that they had seen Tom. The funeral orations are undercut by the mourners' hypocrisy--that is, after the supposed death of the young boys, the boys are praised for the very things in life for which they were condemned. All of these feelings are placed in the background in contrast to the dramatic and theatrical gesture of the boys walking down the aisle alive and healthy at their own funeral. It is not until the next day that Aunt Polly, while admitting that it was "a fine joke," also expresses her suffering and grief and wonders if Tom really cares for her at all.

These chapters continue to develop the idea that "the course of true love never did run smooth." While Becky had mourned for Tom, now Tom, basking in his own fame and many attentions, pretends to ignore her, and Becky performs all the silly antics to get Tom's attention that Tom had earlier performed to get her attention. Her desire for revenge is seen when she decides to let Tom take the blame for the spilled ink on his spelling book. Later, however, Becky will fully redeem herself when she and Tom are lost in the cave.