The next morning, as Huck and the Phelpses sit around the breakfast table, Aunt Sally sees Tom on a mattress along with the doctor, Jim with his hands tied, and a bunch of people. Aunt Sally is profoundly relieved to find that Tom is alive. Men in the mob say they should hang Jim as a warning to other slaves, but others say his owner might come and then they would have to pay for him; so they all refrain.
It is disgusting that men propose to hang Jim for fighting for his freedom, something they would do too were they in his shoes. It is also disgusting that the reason the men refrain from doing so is because they might have to pay for Jim, as though he were just a piece of property.
The men in the mob also cuss at Jim and strike him and put him back in the cabin enchained, but Tom’s doctor tells them they shouldn’t be rougher with Jim than they have to be, because Jim faithfully helped to treat Tom and risked his own freedom to do it. The men in the mob soften up on Jim and thank him for helping the doctor.
The men’s cruelty to Jim softens when the doctor humanizes him. But, despite humanizing Jim, the doctor nevertheless made a point of bringing Jim back in chains, which seems hypocritical: how can he think of Jim as a human yet treat him like livestock?
Tom begins to recover, and comes fully to as Aunt Sally and Huck sit at his bedside. He joyfully recounts to an incredulous Aunt Sally how he and Huck helped Jim to escape. However, Tom’s joy gives way to grave disappointment when he learns that Jim is back in bondage; he tells Aunt Sally that Jim is as free as any creature that walks this earth. He also reveals that he’s known all along that Miss Watson had set Jim free two months ago in her will.
Tom’s insistence that Jim is as free as any creature on earth seems to be the product of a change of heart, one maybe brought about by Jim’s self-sacrifice for Tom. But then we learn that Tom is speaking in a legal sense. Not only has he delayed Jim’s freedom with his plan, Tom has also treated Jim like a slave even though he was legally free, all for the sake of self-indulgent adventure. It really was a game for Tom, with no stakes. Tom was freeing a man who was already free.
As Tom is speaking, he notices that Aunt Polly, his guardian, has come in, much to Aunt Sally’s delight. She reveals Tom and Huck’s true identities, and tells the disgruntled Phelpses all about Huck. She also confirms that Miss Watson had set Jim free two months ago. Finally, during a conversation between the adults, it comes out that Tom was intercepting letters from Aunt Polly to Aunt Sally, which is why the latter didn’t know that Tom was impersonating Sid.
At last, Tom and Huck’s mess is sorted out by Aunt Polly’s arrival. If Tom is an agent of deception and dangerous fancies, Aunt Polly is his opposite, an agent of truth and cold hard facts. It is good that Aunt Polly is back in Tom’s life, we think, because he could benefit from a stern reality check.