Plot Analysis | The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

With the very nature of the novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the type of plot used is Episodic Plot. The story consists of many adventures wherein every adventure has its own climax. It is made up of a series of chapters or stories linked together by the same character which is Tom Sawyer, place, and theme but held apart by their individual plot, purpose, and subtext. In fact, the chapters or stories could be shuffled around and placed in a different order if desired because there is no overall beginning, middle, and end to the book or story as a whole.

This novel has even aired a cartoon with each day releasing an episode. There is a sense of time passing throughout the episodes as if the character is growing or changing through each successive chapter or story. We can see how Tom develops from being a boy into becoming a man. But if we see the story as a whole and select the greatest adventure of Tom, we can arrive at the following exposition, complication, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement.


Tom Sawyer lives in St. Petersburg, Missouri with his Aunt Polly, cousin Mary, and brother Sid. Tom is a mischievous twelve-year-old with a vivid imagination. He routinely skips school and chores in favor of playing pirates, robbers, and other adventures with his friends. He was punished for doing such acts but he was still able to escape by outwitting Aunt Polly and fooling out his friends. He always gets away with the mischief he does.

Twain started the story with a conversation between the main character and his guardian showing the type of personality Tom has. This helped the readers to have a bird’s eye view of the story and its genre. He used dialogues to open the story making it more realistic and easy to follow. The narrations included as a transition were very direct to the point making it easier for the readers to visualize the various mischief Tom was doing and the punishments for which Tom has always a way to escape from it. Humor is evident in Tom’s dialogues and events such as when Tom’s friends were fooled for painting the fence.


During one of Tom’s midnight adventures with his friend Huck, the two witness Injun Joe murder Dr. Robinson. Their initial purpose was to sneak off and plan to carry out a special ritual used to cure warts. They heard voices that they thought of as ghosts but it belonged to Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and Dr. Robinson. When they discover that Muff Potter has been arrested for the murder, they were too afraid to reveal the truth and traumatized by what they saw.

This part of the story presented the first description of the setting implying a spooky atmosphere that would make the readers prepare for something suspicious and suspenseful. He used it to be more realistic and to divert the readers from a feeling of having fun with Tom’s childish adventures to something serious and crime-related. Twain used mystery as an element in which the boys first hear voices and brought out curiosity within the readers. He then reveals the characters involved and eventually brings about a twist in a normal boy’s life.

Rising Action

When Injun Joe disappears, Tom returns to his old ways. He and his friends run away to Jackson’s Island. The whole town assumes they have drowned in the river. They return days later to attend their own funeral revealing that they were alive. Later, they spy Injun Joe returned in disguise with a secret treasure. Fascinated, Huck stays in town to watch Joe, while Tom goes on an outing with Becky to McDougal’s cave. He and Becky were separated from the group and become hopelessly lost in the cave.

The author used Rising Action to reflect the effects of the traumatic event on the main character. He used this to prepare Tom from doing something that is the exact opposite of what he has been doing most of the time, that is, he would take actions that are righteous and justifiable. Twain made the main character enjoy himself out and do whatever is fun. He brought the story to another adventure which would help them realize the right thing to do.


In town, Huck overhears Injun Joe’s plans to kill Widow Douglas and risks his neck to send help with the help of the Welshman. Back in the cave, Tom is desperately looking for a way out of the cave and thinks he’s found one when he sees a rescuer coming around the corner of the cave but instead it was Injun Joe.

This is where a change of personality within the characters happens. Twain described the climax with a rapid succession of events making the intense atmosphere increase. This is where the moment of truth appears, that is, how Tom would deal with a very difficult situation. Twain made use of the concept of separating Huck and Tom and see how they would act on their own. This is where their maturity starts to develop.

Falling Action

Safe from Injun Joe, Widow Douglas takes in Huck and cares for him while he is sick. Luckily, Tom was able to escape unnoticed and found his way out of a small hole and heads back to town with Becky, Tom reported to Judge Thatcher sealing the cave up with a metal door, unwittingly trapping Injun Joe and causing his death by starvation.

Twain presented this in a very descriptive manner. As the story comes near the end, he presented that the boys will have the luxury in life and a good ending, to be exact. His descriptions were very specific on the actions taken and how the boys were rewarded for their acts of kindness. They were hailed as heroes and Huck, who was considered an outcast and a bad influence by many, was adopted and received proper care and the basic needs he was deprived before of having.


Tom and Huck uncover Injun Joe’s treasure in the cave. They returned in a search for money. After recovering the treasure, the two boys return to town. Widow Douglas adopted Huck and gave him an education as a sign of her gratitude for saving her life. Tom and Huck divided the money into two shares, and both Tom and Huck received a considerable income. Between their adventures, heroism, and newfound wealth, the two become a celebrated pair in St. Petersburg.

Initially, Tom’s desire to hunt for treasure appears to be just another juvenile adventure along the lines of the boys’ trip to Jackson’s Island. It is only when Injun Joe appears that we realize that the narrative is no longer skipping from adventure to adventure but is instead driving toward an ending.

By offering different settings in which the action unfolds, Twain allows us to see Tom’s developing maturity and the effects that it has on his interactions with his friends, Becky, and his family. Twain allows us to trace this development in these various relationships without prioritizing one over the others, thus establishing the importance of each facet in a boy’s life.


Huck leaves Mrs. Douglas’ house because he hates it. He went back to his life of being a kid who is up to no good but Tom convinces him to go back to Mrs. Douglas’ house. In the end, Tom and Huck planned to become world-class robbers.

The denouement was presented in a much unexpected manner and in the sense that readers would hunger more for adventure. The fact that Twain presented a new plan of adventure for the characters both brought up and revealed a mystery. Twain presented this as if saying that the novel has more to offer after the readers would think that the story has come to an end and arrived at a conclusion.