The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the year progresses and examination day and the end of the school year approaches, Mr. Dobbins grows even more harsh in an effort to drive his students to better test performance, inflicting punishment after punishment on his students. The boys hate the way Mr. Dobbins terrorizes them, and plot revenge. They enlist the sign-painter's boy, from whose family Mr. Dobbins rents a room.
Mr. Dobbins harshness is a product of his desire to build up his reputation by pushing his students to better performance. Like Tom, he desires the admiration of the crowd. Unlike Tom, he is willing to hurt others to try to get what he wants.
Themes
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
On "Examination Evening", the schoolchildren dress up to present themselves before Mr. Dobbins and the audience that has come to watch them. Mr. Dobbins sits on a raised platform, with his blackboard behind him and the children surrounding him. The onlookers fill the rest of the schoolhouse.
Mr. Dobbin's positions himself as if he is sitting on a throne as he tries to make himself look powerful. Just as the boys show off to each other, Mr. Dobbin's is showing off to the town.
Themes
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
The evening begins with the children giving individual presentations by reciting famous speeches or passages of texts. Tom performs "Give me liberty or give me death," starting off with gusto. But he gets stage-fright halfway through and can't finish. Mr. Dobbins grimaces at him and shoos him from the stage.
Tom's stage-fright may indicate that he is gaining a self-awareness that makes him more modest about his place in the eyes of others. Mr. Dobbins cruelly shames him for his poor performance. Mr. Dobbins is still only concerned with his own reputation as a teachers, rather than his students' worthy, if imperfect, efforts.
Themes
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
The most anticipated event of the evening is the reading of essays on morality by the young ladies of the school. The girls have written essays on subjects such as "Friendship", "The Advantages of Culture", and "Filial Love." Twain, as the narrator, points out that these essays are terribly written and completely unoriginal, and that the naughtiest girls had the most longwinded sermons. Twain offers excerpts of particularly bad pieces which were highly praised, including the essays "Is this, then, Life?" and "A Vision", which the mayor awards first prize.
The young ladies' essays present an idealized view of the world and themselves, far from actual reality. Their overly flowery language and bad writing reveal the ludicrous inaccuracy of this vision. All the same, they are rewarded by their superiors for their insightfulness. Twain's depiction of the young ladies is dismissive to an arguably sexist degree, for while the imaginative flights of boys are endearing, those of girls are foolish and idiotic.
Themes
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
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Mr. Dobbins begins to draw a map of America on his blackboard, for a final geography quiz. He is a disaster at drawing, and as he struggles to correct his map, a cat suddenly drops down from a string tied to the ceiling. It latches onto Mr. Dobbins's wig and pulls it off, revealing that his bald head had been painted gold. The sign-painter's boy had painted it the night before while Mr. Dobbins was sleeping off a hangover. The boys of the class have their revenge. Examination evening comes to a chaotic end, and summer vacation begins.
The boys are victoria in the end, and Mr. Dobbins is justly punished for treating the boys so harshly in his attempt to look good before their parents. His "golden dome", or crown, is a physical mockery of his acting like a tyrannical ruler over his students.
Themes
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon