After dinner, the boys eat a supper of turtle eggs. Then they strip naked and go swimming, and stage an improvised circus. But their spirits are sinking into homesickness: even Tom finds himself writing Becky's name in the sand with his toe. However, Tom does not want to give up on island life yet, and tries to get the others interested in digging for treasure - in vain. Joe announces that he is going home and wades off towards the Illinois shore. Huck admits that he also wants to go. Huck tries to persuade Tom to leave with him, but Tom refuses, and Huck starts off alone. Tom realizes that he will have to come up with an incentive to keep the others on the island, and offers to tell them a secret. They come back, and Tom shares his secret with them. They are delighted, though we do not yet know what the secret is.
After dinner, at Tom's suggestion, Huck teaches him and Joe how to smoke. Tom and Joe boast about how they do not feel sick and how they could easily go on smoking all day. They look forward to showing off their new habit to their friends back home. But as they continue, they begin to retch and feel ill. Joe goes off, as he says, to look for a lost knife, and Tom offers to help him by searching in the other direction. Huck finds them later in the woods, pale and asleep, probably having vomited. That night, Huck offers to make them pipes, but they refuse, claiming to have eaten something that disagreed with them.
That night, there is a storm. The sail they are using as a tent blows away, and they are forced to shelter under an oak tree on the riverbank. When they return to camp, they find that the sycamore that sheltered their tent has been torn down; they have narrowly escaped being crushed under it. As there is no dry place to sleep, they coax their fire back to life and cook some ham. As day breaks, they fall asleep, only to get scorched by the sun. Tom sees that the others are homesick again, so he rallies their spirits by reminding them of their secret. Then he organizes a game in which they pretend to be Indians. They fight mock battles, but towards supper-time realize that there is only one way to make peace: to smoke a pipe of peace. Tom and Joe begin to wish they had remained pirates, but when they take a puff, they are happy to find that they do not become sick. They are proud of their achievement.
It is Sunday in St Petersburg. The Harpers and Aunt Polly's family are officially going into mourning and the entire town is unusually quiet. Becky regrets her coldness to Tom and wishes she had kept the brass knob, as now she has nothing to remember him by. The children of the town compete with each other as to who was the last to see each boy alive.
Aunt Polly's family and the Harpers arrive at the church for the boys' funeral service. The minister eulogizes the boys, feeling guilty that he had previously been blind to their good points. He recounts incidents that illustrate how sweet and generous they were, "and remembered with grief that at the time they occurred they had seemed rank rascalities, well deserving of the cowhide." By the end of the sermon, the whole congregation and the minister are in tears.
The church door opens and Tom leads in Joe and Huck. Tom and Joe are welcomed into the loving embraces of the families, but no one welcomes Huck, who stands to one side, looking awkward. Tom points out the unfairness of this to Aunt Polly ("Somebody's got to be glad to see Huck"), who gives Huck a hug, to his great discomfort. The minister leads the congregation in singing a hymn of thanksgiving. For Tom, this is "the proudest moment in his life."
Analysis of Chapters 16-18
Tom's ability to stage-manage other people is clear in these chapters. He persuades his friends to run away with him to the island to be pirates, but they all soon become homesick. Determined not to give up before the time is ripe for their reappearance in St Petersburg, Tom re-engages them with his "secret" plan to make a theatrical entrance at their own funerals. His friends will be playing parts designed by Tom. His motivation in wanting to learn to smoke is similar. While he does not enjoy his first smoke, he creates an elaborate scenario of how he will look to other children when he first smokes in front of them, working out in detail what he and Joe will say and do: "And then you'll out with the pipes, and we'll light up just as ca'm, and then just see 'em look!"
Tom takes on the role of the theatre director, who decides what others will do and say, and also the role of chief performer: he wants to see the looks on others' faces when he gives his performance. It is this that feeds and motivates him. In observing others' reactions, he becomes the passive audience of the 'play' he has actively directed and starred in. An example is the incident in Chapter 15, when, from his vantage point under the bed, he covertly watches his family dissolve into grief over his stage-managed 'death.' What greater starring role could there be than to rise from the dead once more at his own funeral?
Another theme that is developed in these chapters is the mutual dependency of the adult and children's societies. Joe comments that "Swimming's no good; I don't seem to care for it, somehow, when there ain't anybody to say I shan't go in." In this novel, it is the role of children to do things that they are not allowed to do, and the role of adults to punish them for it. Though the children have impulses to independence, the freedom they crave loses its luster when it is no longer forbidden them. For the adults' part, they seem to have lost their appetite for condemning and punishing bad behavior now that the children are presumed dead.
Tom and Joe have imagined and played at breaking free from parental control, and they admire Huck as a symbol of the freedom they think they want. But Huck must live the reality, and it is anything but romantic. As well as being permanently short of food and clothes, he has no one to welcome him on his return from the island. When Aunt Polly takes pity on him and gives him a hug, he is so unused to receiving affection that he feels embarrassed.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Novel Summary: Chapter 16 - 18