The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Inciting Event: Tom sees Becky Thatcher move to town—and is immediately smitten with her. This book has two main plotlines that recur throughout its otherwise episodic progression: Tom’s infatuation with Becky and his and Huck’s pursuit of Injun Joe and his treasure. There isn’t any particularly strong link between the two plots, but they do end up intertwining by the Third Plot Point. For now, this is an obvious introduction of the Becky conflict, since this is Tom’s first encounter with her—one that is appropriately fruitless since he won’t fully engage with the conflict until the First Plot Point.

First Plot Point: Here, we have a plot point for each of the main conflicts. To start with, Tom finally meets (and immediately alienates) Becky. But even more dramatically, he and Huck Finn witness Injun Joe’s murder of Dr. Robinson in the graveyard. This launches the heavier of the two plots, as the two boys are hurtled into a world of trepidation, fearing Joe will discover their knowledge and kill them for it.

First Pinch Point: Partly for fun and partly to escape the pressures of the impending murder trial, Tom, Huck, and another friend run away to Jackson’s Island, where they lark for several days, until Tom learns the town is going to be holding their funerals. He plans a grand entrance at the funeral. As far as pinch points go, this one isn’t particularly strong, but it definitely creates a nice new turn of events within the plot. It’s lack of pinchiness isn’t such a big deal, since the plot as a whole is designed to be pretty episodic.

Midpoint: The murder trial finally commences, and Tom’s guilty conscience prompts him to testify against Joe—who escapes. The turn from reaction to action isn’t glaringly obvious here, because, again, the story focuses on little vignettes that are only loosely connected to one another. But this does obviously move the Injun-Joe plot into a new vein: as the boys now have real reason to fear his retribution.

Second Pinch Point: While hunting treasure, Tom and Huck overhear Joe and his partner discussing their own treasure—and the vengeance Joe means to seek. This both emphasizes what’s at stake for the boys and turns them onto their final mission: finding Joe’s treasure.

Third Plot Point: The primary plot point here is Tom and Becky’s getting lost in the cave. But that is told almost in retrospect, with Huck’s adventures taking the brunt of the drama to start with. When Huck overhears Joe swearing to mutilate the kindly Widow Douglas, he risks his neck to warn the neighbors and save her. This is a great big Third Plot Point that emphasizes death all over the place: the Widow Douglas’s danger, Huck’s personal risk, and Tom and Becky’s near approach to death.

Climax: While seeking a way out of the cave, Tom sees Joe. Tom escapes, and the scene seems almost incidental until a few chapters later when, first, the cave is sealed with Joe inside (he dies of starvation) and, then, Tom reveals to Huck that he now knows where Joe’s treasure is.

Climactic Moment: Tom and Huck find Joe’s treasure in the cave. Obviously, this moment is specific only to the treasure-hunt subplot in the last third of the book. However, we see the Becky subplot being, more or less, tied off in summation, with her father declaring his admiration for Tom’s bravery. And, of course, the Joe subplot itself is finished with the death of Joe and, thus, his ability to threaten the boys. It’s notable how, even within a story as loosely woven as this one, the various Climactic Moments still all come home to roost right around the same time. That’s good storytelling.

Resolution: Tom and Huck are town heroes, and Huck is adopted by the Widow Douglas.

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