At home, Aunt Polly searches for Tom and finds him hiding in the closet with jam smeared around his mouth. She is about to whip him for stealing it, when he tricks her into looking the other way so that he can escape. Aunt Polly laughs, admitting to herself that he'll play hooky for the rest of the day. As she hates to hit him, she decides to punish him by making him work the following day, a Saturday. There's nothing Tom hates more than work.
The opening scene establishes Tom as a rebellious orphan who has fallen into the care of his kind and good-natured Aunt Polly. As an adult representative of authority, Aunt Polly feels she must punish Tom for his inappropriate behavior and shape him into a good citizen. Yet, Tom is a charming boy, and she recognizes that his tricks and ruses are winning skills in the world, making her reluctant to punish him as fully as she might.
Tom returns home and saws firewood with Jim. Rather than doing his share of the work, Tom mostly tells stories. Sid finishes early with his task of picking up chips.
Tom's storytelling ability allows him to avoid doing any real work. Sid lacks his brother's sociability. His good behavior makes him unpopular with boys while winning over adults. Accordingly, he is assigned a less taxing but more feminine chore than Tom.
Over dinner Aunt Polly tries to trick Tom into revealing that he played hooky to go swimming. He outwits her, but Sid points out Tom's dishonesty by noting that his collar has black thread stitches, rather than the white thread stitches Polly sewed it with—indicating that Tom changed his clothes to go swimming.
To catch Tom in his deceptions, Aunt Polly uses her own deceptive methods. In doing so she fails to set a good example for Tom. And, anyway, he proves to be the more skillful deceiver..
Tom quickly gets over his annoyance at having been caught out, and heads out to wander, whistling a birdsong. He encounters a well-dressed new boy (later revealed to be Alfred Temple), and begins to taunt him. They fight, with Tom winning. Alfred walks away crying. Once Tom's back is turned, Alfred throws a stone that hits Tom squarely between the shoulders. Tom angrily chases the boy home, then stands outside his house jeering until Alfred's mother shoos him away.
Tom and the other boy's fighting is shown as ridiculous, with no point but the assertion of dominance. Yet their conflict is not so different from those between adults, whose competitive behaviors are typically less physically violent, but are still driven by the same desires to fit in and also rise above one another.
Aunt Polly catches Tom crawling into his bedroom window late that night. She is dismayed to see his clothes, filthy from the fight, and resolves to make him work even harder on Saturday.
Once again, Aunt Polly uses deviousness to catch deviousness. Tom is punished for his deviousness, but Aunt Polly's tactics show that it is a helpful skill in the adult world..