Summary and Analysis Chapters 4-5



On Sunday morning, Tom struggles to learn his Sunday school lesson with the help of his cousin Mary, who offers him a present if he can learn the lesson. Tom applies himself and soon has it mastered. On the way to church, Tom swaps items (his wealth from whitewashing) for tickets indicating how many verses in the Bible he has memorized. Tom has collected (bought off) so many tickets that it would appear that he has committed around 2,000 verses to memory--a feat no student has ever accomplished. In Sunday school class, Tom claims the award of a Bible for "knowing" so many verses. Tom is then introduced to Judge Thatcher, who asks him the name of the first two apostles, and Tom blurts out "David and Goliath!"

The monotony of church is broken by a large black beetle that pinches a dog, causing it to clamor up and down the aisles like a rocket. The dog then lands in its master's lap, and the master tosses it out the window.


Tom, a very bright boy, has a great deal of difficulty learning his Sunday school lesson because he is bored and "takes no stock" is sermons, not even the famous "Sermon on the Mount." The humor here is that Tom cannot learn the simple verses of the Beatitudes, yet, through his finagling of the red, yellow, and blue tickets, others believe that Tom has memorized over 2,000 verses in the Bible.

True to form, Tom makes a nuisance of himself in Sunday school, pinching, pulling hair, sticking pins into other boys, and committing other annoying acts. Unlike Sid, who is fond of Sunday school, Tom "hate[s] it with his whole heart" and Twain's presentation of a day in Sunday school with the long tedious and boring speeches is proof enough why anyone--except Sid, that is--would dislike it.

Twain is at his best in satirizing religion and church. In the scene with the church service, Twain uses gentle satire to mock and make fun of a typical church service. Consider, for example, the minister who "turn[s] himself into a bulletin-board" by reading long and tedious lists of various meetings, the "little German boy" who recites Biblical verses nonstop and then suffers a nervous breakdown, or the people, such as Mr. Walters and Judge Thatcher, who show up just to be seen or to make an impression. Tom, of course, does the same thing when he barters for the ribbons, which are symbols of accomplishments, not the accomplishments themselves: All the ribbons in the world do not make him know any scriptures.

Also in this chapter, Twain begins to develop an obvious thematic dilemma: Tom's maturation into an adult member of the community, but Twain's disapproval of many of the behaviors found in these adults.


Barlow knife a single blade knife that cost 12 cents.

Doré Bible an expensively illustrated Bible by the famous French illustrator, Gustave Doré (1833nd1883) whose most famous works include illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy.

roundabout a short, tight jacket or coat formerly worn by men and boys.

"tackle it again" try to learn the lesson again.

David and Goliath The story of David slaying the giant Goliath and saving the kingdom comes from the Old Testament. David and Goliath precede the disciples by around 1,500 years.

pinchbug a type of relatively harmless beetle.

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