Foreshadowing

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Foreshadowing 2 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Tom Playing Dead:

In Chapter 3, several chapters before Tom feigns his death by running away to Jackson’s island (and then returns to the village to witness his own funeral), he fantasizes about how much Aunt Polly would miss him if he died. This is an example of foreshadowing:

Ah, how would she feel then? And he pictured himself brought home from the river, dead, with his curls all wet, and his sore heart at rest. How she would throw herself upon him, and how her tears would fall like rain, and her lips pray God to give her back her boy and she would never, never abuse him any more!

The language in this scene is echoed in Twain’s description of the funeral in Chapter 17:

Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses and poured out thanksgivings.

The vision Tom has of Aunt Polly “throwing” herself on him comes true, though instead of weeping over her loss she expresses gratitude over the fact that he is safe and sound.

Tom’s initial vision of Aunt Polly sobbing over his dead body comes after Aunt Polly refuses to apologize to him after beating him because she incorrectly assumed he broke the sugar bowl when, in fact, Sid broke it. The fact that Tom goes on to actually feign his death in order to (at least in part) witness Aunt Polly’s grief over her loss, is Twain’s way of highlighting the hypocrisy of adult society. Aunt Polly could have just apologized and not pushed Tom into wanting to hurt her but she chose to act like she was in the right for punishing him over something he didn’t do. Twain highlights here how adult hypocrisy can lead to children wanting to rebel—that kind of behavior doesn’t come from nowhere.

Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—A Death-Watch:

Before Tom leaves for the graveyard with Huck to do a ritual with a dead cat, he hears the sounds of a “death-watch” (a type of beetle), foreshadowing the murder the boys will witness that same evening:

And now the tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a death-watch in the wall at the bed’s head made Tom shudder—it meant that somebody’s days were numbered.

Tom believes that the sounds of the beetle signal that “somebody’s days were numbered,” foreshadowing how he is about witness Injun Joe murder Dr. Robinson in the graveyard. Even the language of “death-watch” can be seen as foreshadowing the fact that Tom and Huck are about to watch someone die.

Though this is a moment of superstition—Tom’s imaginative mind leads him to see symbols everywhere—it also prepares readers emotionally for the gruesome twist in the plot that they are about to experience. The content of the quote, along with the eerie tone, combine to encourage readers to be on the edge of their seat as Huck comes to pick Tom up for their adventurous evening in the graveyard (a place that itself hints at the impending death).

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Chapter 17
Explanation and Analysis—Tom Playing Dead:

In Chapter 3, several chapters before Tom feigns his death by running away to Jackson’s island (and then returns to the village to witness his own funeral), he fantasizes about how much Aunt Polly would miss him if he died. This is an example of foreshadowing:

Ah, how would she feel then? And he pictured himself brought home from the river, dead, with his curls all wet, and his sore heart at rest. How she would throw herself upon him, and how her tears would fall like rain, and her lips pray God to give her back her boy and she would never, never abuse him any more!

The language in this scene is echoed in Twain’s description of the funeral in Chapter 17:

Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses and poured out thanksgivings.

The vision Tom has of Aunt Polly “throwing” herself on him comes true, though instead of weeping over her loss she expresses gratitude over the fact that he is safe and sound.

Tom’s initial vision of Aunt Polly sobbing over his dead body comes after Aunt Polly refuses to apologize to him after beating him because she incorrectly assumed he broke the sugar bowl when, in fact, Sid broke it. The fact that Tom goes on to actually feign his death in order to (at least in part) witness Aunt Polly’s grief over her loss, is Twain’s way of highlighting the hypocrisy of adult society. Aunt Polly could have just apologized and not pushed Tom into wanting to hurt her but she chose to act like she was in the right for punishing him over something he didn’t do. Twain highlights here how adult hypocrisy can lead to children wanting to rebel—that kind of behavior doesn’t come from nowhere.

Unlock with LitCharts A+