The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Symbols


The Andiron Knob

Tom offers an andiron knob to Becky when she realizes that she's not the first girl he's professed to love forever. Thus Tom offers Becky a symbol of his intent when his words are flawed. The tradition of giving a token of affection is not restricted to the day of engagement or marriage, but it is a tradition upheld in America and many other countries. An andiron knob is the ornate top of the metal support used to hold the wood in a fireplace. It represents their romance and the social eventuality of domestic family life—Tom offers her "hearth and home" with this gift. When Becky knocks it to the ground, Tom realizes that he's been rejected.

The Cave

The cave is a place of both sex and death. Tom is here with Becky. They share their "wedding cake" from the picnic and are alone together for several nights. He kisses her before going away to seek their escape. At the conclusion of their adventure Becky's father treats him with respect and starts to plan for Tom's future. There is no literal sex in the cave, but it functions symbolically as such.

Similarly, the cave is a place of death. Injun Joe dies there, which resolves the greatest threat against Tom (and Huck). Tom does not cause this death, but his actions lead to the gate being sealed—thereby creating the condition that results in Injun Joe's death. Furthermore, during Tom and Becky's time there, they fear they are facing death. Twain makes clear that the threat was not imagined, as they require multiple days to recover.

The Treasure

In keeping with the grand tradition of boyhood stories, Tom and Huck go on an adventure seeking buried treasure. Yet the treasure does more than provide a sense of adventure for the boys; it symbolizes a secure future for them both. Judge Thatcher attends to Tom's future, planning his financial options. Widow Douglas had already decided to take care of Huck, but the treasure means Huck has the ability to live on his own in the future.

Tom describes the treasure as "old metal," which is technically true, but it's much more than that: it ensures financial security beyond boyhood and into adulthood.

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