The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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The Cave Symbol Analysis

The Cave Symbol Icon
In the harrowing experience of surviving several days lost in MacDougal's Cave, Tom's proves his manhood. Like the island, the cave involves physical isolation from the village community. While Tom runs away to the island with dreams of personal glory as an outlaw, in the cave he acts wisely and resourcefully as Becky's male protector. Twain describes the experience in a realistic, unromantic style that speaks for the seriousness required of the adult behaviors Tom performs in rescuing Becky.

The Cave Quotes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The The Adventures of Tom Sawyer quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Cave. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage Classics edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published in 2010.
Chapter 31 Quotes
Tom got down on his knees and felt below, and then as far around the corner as he could reach with his hands conveniently; he made an effort to stretch yet a little further to the right, and at that moment, not twenty yards away, a human hand, holding a candle, appeared from behind a rock! Tom lifted up a glorious shout, and instantly that hand was followed by the body it belonged to—Injun Joe's! Tom was paralyzed ; he could not move. He was instantly gratified, the next moment, to see the "Spaniard" take to his heels and get himself out of sight.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe
Related Symbols: The Cave
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In this strange scene, Tom--who's trapped in the cave--crosses paths with Injun Joe, who's hiding out in the cave as well. Tom is terrified when he sees Joe, since he assumes Joe will want to get his revenge on Tom for ratting him out to the authorities. And yet Injun Joe doesn't try to attack Tom at all--he just runs away into the darkness.

Why doesn't Joe try to hurt Tom? Perhaps Joe just didn't recognize him, and heard a shout and automatically fled. Or perhaps he isn't really as angry with Tom as Tom had assumed: even if Tom and Huck are the reason that Joe has had to flee the town, Joe might not blame the two young children for his fate. Moreover, Joe's behavior suggests that he's more concerned for his own survival in the cave than in getting revenge. As intimidating as Joe might seem to Tom, both Joe and Tom are trapped in the same predicament: they're imprisoned in the same cave. The implication of this passage is that Joe--and by extension, the whole adult world--isn't as capable and powerful as Tom had assumed: young or adult, male or female, everyone gets scared in a cave.

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Chapter 33 Quotes
Injun Joe lay stretched upon the ground, dead, with his face close to the crack of the door, as if his longing eyes had been fixed, to the latest moment, upon the light and the cheer of the free world outside. Tom was touched, for he knew by his own experience how this wretch had suffered.
Related Characters: Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe
Related Symbols: The Cave
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Tom discovers that Injun Joe has died in the cave where Tom himself was trapped. Unlike Tom, Joe hasn't been able to find a way out of his prison: he's been forced to live on bats and try in vain to carve his way to freedom.

The passage is significant for a number of reasons. First, notice that Joe--the strong, rugged adult--has died in the same cave that Tom survived. Tom is beginning to realize that being an adult isn't all it's cracked up to be: adults can still come to harm, and in the most gruesome ways.

The passage also represents one of the first times in the novel that Tom shows real sympathy for another person. Tom knows first-hand how frightening getting trapped in a cave can be, so even though he fears and hates Joe, he's naturally sympathetic to Joe's horrible fate. Tom seems to have gained some maturity after all over the course of the book: he's learned to respect other people and sympathize with their pain.

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The Cave Symbol Timeline in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Cave appears in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 30
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
Superstition, Fantasy, and Escape Theme Icon
...Tom is. The other children confess that the pair may well still be in the cave. (full context)
Chapter 31
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
Showing Off Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
...to tell the story of what happened to Tom and Becky. They're playing in the cave along with their friends. They split off to explore a more distant part of the... (full context)
Chapter 32
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
Sentimentality and Realism Theme Icon
At the Thatchers' house, Tom tells of their time in the cave, adding self-aggrandizing embellishments. He explains how he finally found a way out when he saw... (full context)
Chapter 33
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
Judge Thatcher, Tom, and several boatloads of men immediately head to the cave's entrance. Removing its barrier, they find Injun Joe's dead body. Tom realizes he's relieved to... (full context)
Chapter 35
Boyhood Rebellion and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of Adult Society Theme Icon
Showing Off Theme Icon
Judge Thatcher thinks highly of Tom for having rescued Becky from the cave. Becky has even told him about how Tom took her punishment at school. Judge Thatcher... (full context)