Summary and Analysis Chapters 23-24



At last, the day of Muff Potter's trial arrives. It is the sole absorbing story of the entire town. Every report about the trial makes Tom shudder, and he finds Huck Finn in order to reassure himself that Huck has told no one. Huck tells Tom that he will tell only when he decides that he wants Injun Joe to drown him, for he knows that they will not be alive for two days if they reveal what they know. The boys then swear again not to reveal the truth because the consequences of their telling would be tantamount to their own deaths.

Tom and Huck discuss the rumors going about town and how it is obvious that Muff Potter will be convicted and executed. Then they remember certain little favors that Muff had performed for them and agree that Muff is basically a harmless drunk who has never done anyone any mischief; he is certainly not the hardened villain that he is depicted to be by the village.

The boys do as they have often done before: They take various items, such as tobacco, to Muff's jail cell, and they try to comfort him. Muff tells the boys how kind they are and remembers all of the good things about them. Tom and Huck leave feeling guilty and miserable.

At the first day of the trial, the prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses that point to Muff as being the murderer, and the defense attorney does not cross-examine. Even the townspeople are dissatisfied that the defense attorney is simply "throwing away his client's life without an effort." Tom and Huck have avoided going into the courtroom. That night, Tom is out very late.

The next day, after the closing remarks of the prosecutor, the defense attorney changes his plea; surprisingly, he calls Tom Sawyer to the witness stand and asks where Tom was hiding on the night of the murder. Tom can hardly answer but finally reveals that he was hiding only a few feet away from the murder scene. Then, in his own words--and by now Tom is speaking freely--he describes the entire scene. When Tom reaches the climax of the story, Injun Joe jumps through the courthouse window and escapes. Upon Tom's revelation, the fickle town, which had openly condemned Muff Potter, now takes him "to its bosom."

Once more, Tom is the "glittering hero" and the envy of every boy in the village. While Tom's days are ones of exultation and praise, his nights are horrors. His dreams are nightmares, and he will not leave home after dark. While Huck's name was never mentioned in court, Huck is still afraid that word of his involvement will get out, because his "confidence in the human race was well-nigh obliterated." Rewards are offered for Injun Joe, and a fancy St. Louis detective arrives and leaves, but Injun Joe is not found. After some time, Tom's fears abate somewhat.


The basic goodness of the two boys is revealed in their concern about the fate of Muff Potter. When they recall all of the little things that Muff has done for them, their consciences are aroused, and they conclude that actually Muff is a simple, harmless person who would never hurt anyone. Yet in spite of their consciences, they know that if they tell, they will both be dead within a short period of time. Thus weighing everything, they again renew the pledge never to tell.

The entire trial is centered upon Tom's reactions; Huck does not even attend the trial, but rather, he waits outside the courtroom. During Muff Potter's time in jail and throughout much of the trial, all the evidence seems to prove Muff Potter's guilt, and, until the last day of the trial, Tom's chief concern is for his own safety.

In this chapter, however, we see Tom's moral integrity emerge. During the course of the trial, Tom sees justice being perverted, and he, of course, recognizes the evil--and guilt--of Injun Joe. Although he is still frightened to reveal the truth, Tom begins to change. Then he mysteriously disappears at night, and it is not until later that Twain lets the reader know of Tom's whereabouts. When Tom is called to the witness stand, we realize that Tom has revealed to Muff Potter's defense lawyer what he witnessed in the cemetery on the night of the murder. On the witness stand, in spite of the real danger to himself, Tom bravely tells the truth. This is his most mature, heroic, and courageous action.

The trial scene is presented almost entirely from Tom's point of view. Through his eyes, we see Muff Potter as pale, weak, haggard, and hopeless. In fact, Tom had considered helping Muff escape, but he knows it would be useless because the man is too incompetent and would be caught immediately. In contrast to the weak and pathetic Potter, Injun Joe is a confident man of action. When Injun Joe realizes that he has been identified as the murderer, he wastes no time; he simply escapes as rapidly as possible.

Huck has also matured, but in a different way. Until Tom broke his solemn oath and testified in court, Huck had implicit faith in the value of oaths. Now, however, he is completely disillusioned, and his faith in the efficacy of oaths is shattered. In fact, his belief in the honesty and integrity of human beings in general is destroyed; he is now completely disillusioned, but he has become less gullible and more mature.

Conceivably, Tom's maturity is complete with his testimony against Injun Joe; his adventure, however, has not reached a climax.

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