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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 31 | Summary



Tom and Becky are lost in the cave. Their adventure over the next several days is harsh. They wander, find water, and eat the remains of their "wedding cake" that Tom has saved. As time passes, both despair of finding a way out—although Tom remains upbeat for Becky. At one point they hear rescuers, but their answering cries are not heard. They have no more candles left and no food left either.

Becky grows weak with hunger and fear, and Tom decides to use his kite string to navigate and explore in search of a way out. When he finds someone, however, it's Injun Joe, who does not recognize him and runs away. He hides his discovery from Becky and decides to stay at the spring with her, but the combination of fear and hunger lead him to explore again a day later. By now Becky has given up, and she asks that he come back and "stay by her and hold her hand until all was over." Tom kisses her and pretends to be upbeat, and then he resumes his search.


As with numerous other details, the cave is based on Twain's experiences. He describes a cave from his childhood: "Many excursion parties came from considerable distances up and down the river to visit the cave. It was miles in extent." Twain had been lost there once, "along with a lady, and our last candle burned down to almost nothing before we glimpsed our search party's lights."

Tom's experiences in the cave are less quickly resolved than the ones in Twain's own history. What they do, however, is position Tom in an adult role. He takes responsibility for Becky, whose helplessness and despair add to Tom's sense of responsibility. He assures her of their safety, hides dangers (namely, Injun Joe's presence) from her, and works to find their freedom. As Tom acts as an adult rather than as a boy, he also behaves in a more adult fashion by kissing Becky. They share cake, hold hands, kiss, and spend several nights together—a symbolic solidification of their romantic relationship. They work together, and they are ultimately closer as a result of the obstacles they face at McDougal's cave.

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