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In the 1840s, a mischievous boy named Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother, Sid, in the Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri.
After playing hooky from school on Friday and dirtying his clothes in a
fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence as punishment all of the next
day. At first, Tom is disheartened by having to forfeit his day off.
However, he soon cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small
treasures for the privilege of doing his work. He trades the treasures
he got by tricking his friends into whitewashing the fence for tickets
given out in Sunday school for memorizing Bible verses, which can be
used to claim a Bible as a prize. He received enough tickets to be given
the Bible. However, he loses much of his glory when, in response to a
question to show off his knowledge, he incorrectly answers that the
first disciples were David and Goliath.
Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and
persuades her to get "engaged" by kissing him. Becky kisses Tom, but
their romance collapses when she learns that Tom has been "engaged"
previously, to a girl named Amy Lawrence. Shortly after being shunned by
Becky, Tom accompanies Huckleberry Finn,
the son of the town drunk, to the graveyard at night to try out a
"cure" for warts with a dead cat. At the graveyard, they witness the
murder of young Dr. Robinson by the Native-American "half-breed" Injun
Joe. Scared, Tom and Huck run away and swear a blood oath not to tell
anyone what they have seen. Injun Joe frames his companion, Muff Potter,
a hapless drunk, for the crime. Potter is wrongfully arrested, and
Tom's anxiety and guilt begin to grow.
Tom, Huck, and Tom's friend run away to an island to become pirates.
While enjoying their newfound freedom, the boys become aware that the
community is sounding the river for their bodies. Tom sneaks back home
one night to observe the commotion. After a brief moment of remorse at
the suffering of his loved ones, Tom is struck by the idea of appearing
at his funeral and surprising everyone.
Back in school, Tom gets himself back in Becky's favor after he nobly
accepts the blame for a book that she has ripped. Soon, Muff Potter's
trial begins, and Tom, overcome by guilt, testifies against Injun Joe.
Potter is acquitted, but Injun Joe flees the courtroom through a window.
Tom then begins to fear for his life as Injun Joe is unapprehended and
can easily find out where Tom is.
Summer arrives, and Tom and Huck go hunting for buried treasure in a
haunted house. After venturing upstairs they hear a noise below. Peering
through holes in the floor, they see Injun Joe enter the house
disguised as a deaf and mute Spaniard. He and his companion, an unkempt
man, plan to bury some stolen treasure of their own. From their hiding
spot, Tom and Huck wriggle with delight at the prospect of digging it
up. Huck begins to shadow Injun Joe every night, watching for an
opportunity to nab the gold. Meanwhile, Tom goes on a picnic to
McDougal's Cave with Becky and their classmates. That same night, Huck
sees Injun Joe and his partner making off with a box. He follows and
overhears their plans to attack the Widow Douglas, a kind resident of
St. Petersburg. By running to fetch help, Huck forestalls the violence
and becomes an anonymous hero.
A week later, Tom takes Huck to the cave and they find the box of
gold, the proceeds of which are invested for them. The Widow Douglas
adopts Huck, and, when Huck attempts to escape civilized life, Tom
promises him that if he returns to the widow, he can join Tom's robber band. Reluctantly, Huck agrees.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the book's sequel.