The Adventures of Tom Sawyer revolves around the youthful adventures of the novel's schoolboy protagonist, Thomas Sawyer, whose reputation precedes him for causing mischief and strife. Tom lives with his Aunt Polly, half-brother Sid, and cousin Mary in the quaint town of St. Petersburg, just off the shore of the Mississippi River. St. Petersburg is described as a typical small-town atmosphere where the Christian faith is predominant, the social network is close-knit, and familiarity resides.
Unlike his brother Sid, Tom receives "lickings" from his Aunt Polly; ever the mischief-maker, would rather play hooky than attend school and often sneaks out his bedroom window at night to adventure with his friend, Huckleberry Finn the town's social outcast. Tom, despite his dread of schooling, is extremely clever and would normally get away with his pranks if Sid were not such a "tattle-tale."
As punishment for skipping school to go swimming, Aunt Polly assigns Tom the chore of whitewashing the fence surrounding the house. In a brilliant scheme, Tom is able to con the neighborhood boys into completing the chore for him, managing to convince them of the joys of whitewashing. At school, Tom is equally as flamboyant, and attracts attention by chasing other boys, yelling, and running around. With his usual antics, Tom attempts to catch the eye of Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get "engaged" by kissing him. But their romance collapses when she learns Tom has been "engaged" previously to Amy Lawrence. Shortly after Becky shuns him, he accompanies Huckleberry Finn to the graveyard at night, where they witness the murder of Dr. Robinson.
Excerpt: "TOM!" No answer. "TOM!" No answer. "What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!" No answer. The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for "style," not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear: "Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll—" She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat. "I never did see the beat of that boy!"