Imagery

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by

Mark Twain

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer can help.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Imagery 2 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—A Death-Watch:

Before Tom leaves for the graveyard with Huck to do a ritual with a dead cat, he hears the sounds of a “death-watch” (a type of beetle), foreshadowing the murder the boys will witness that same evening:

And now the tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a death-watch in the wall at the bed’s head made Tom shudder—it meant that somebody’s days were numbered.

Tom believes that the sounds of the beetle signal that “somebody’s days were numbered,” foreshadowing how he is about witness Injun Joe murder Dr. Robinson in the graveyard. Even the language of “death-watch” can be seen as foreshadowing the fact that Tom and Huck are about to watch someone die.

Though this is a moment of superstition—Tom’s imaginative mind leads him to see symbols everywhere—it also prepares readers emotionally for the gruesome twist in the plot that they are about to experience. The content of the quote, along with the eerie tone, combine to encourage readers to be on the edge of their seat as Huck comes to pick Tom up for their adventurous evening in the graveyard (a place that itself hints at the impending death).

Chapter 16
Explanation and Analysis—Storms:

Storms occur in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to communicate that Tom is feeling emotionally burdened. Twain uses imagery to capture this symbolism, specifically to communicate how the intensity of the storm outside matches the storminess inside of Tom.

The first storm occurs in Chapter 16. Tom, Huck, and Joe are still living on Jackson’s Island but feeling ready to go home:

Every little while some giant tree yielded the fight and fell crashing through the younger growth; and the unflagging thunder peals came now in ear-splitting explosive bursts, keen and sharp, and unspeakably appalling. The storm culminated in one matchless effort that seemed likely to tear the island to pieces, burn it up, drown it to the treetops, blow it away, and deafen every creature in it, all at one and the same moment.

The language of “ear-splitting,” “unspeakably appalling,” and “seemed likely to tear the island to pieces” all communicate the level of fear that Tom (and likely the other boys) experience. The extreme nature of the storm mirrors the intensity the boys feel about missing their homes and shows how boyhood rebellion and escapism are not all they are cracked up to be.

Another storm occurs in Chapter 22 when Tom feels all alone, with Becky away for the summer and all of his friends quoting scripture due to a religious revival:

And that night there came on a terrific storm, with driving rain, awful claps of thunder and blinding sheets of lightning. He covered his head with the bedclothes and waited in a horror of suspense for his doom.

Again, the storm is described with vivid imagery that is both auditory and visual—“awful claps” and “blinding sheets.” This occurs when Tom has to face the fact that he feels alone and doesn’t always have control over the people in his life. Despite all of the ways that Tom shows off and acts like he is outside of society, he is starting to realize that he needs people, too.

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Chapter 22
Explanation and Analysis—Storms:

Storms occur in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to communicate that Tom is feeling emotionally burdened. Twain uses imagery to capture this symbolism, specifically to communicate how the intensity of the storm outside matches the storminess inside of Tom.

The first storm occurs in Chapter 16. Tom, Huck, and Joe are still living on Jackson’s Island but feeling ready to go home:

Every little while some giant tree yielded the fight and fell crashing through the younger growth; and the unflagging thunder peals came now in ear-splitting explosive bursts, keen and sharp, and unspeakably appalling. The storm culminated in one matchless effort that seemed likely to tear the island to pieces, burn it up, drown it to the treetops, blow it away, and deafen every creature in it, all at one and the same moment.

The language of “ear-splitting,” “unspeakably appalling,” and “seemed likely to tear the island to pieces” all communicate the level of fear that Tom (and likely the other boys) experience. The extreme nature of the storm mirrors the intensity the boys feel about missing their homes and shows how boyhood rebellion and escapism are not all they are cracked up to be.

Another storm occurs in Chapter 22 when Tom feels all alone, with Becky away for the summer and all of his friends quoting scripture due to a religious revival:

And that night there came on a terrific storm, with driving rain, awful claps of thunder and blinding sheets of lightning. He covered his head with the bedclothes and waited in a horror of suspense for his doom.

Again, the storm is described with vivid imagery that is both auditory and visual—“awful claps” and “blinding sheets.” This occurs when Tom has to face the fact that he feels alone and doesn’t always have control over the people in his life. Despite all of the ways that Tom shows off and acts like he is outside of society, he is starting to realize that he needs people, too.

Unlock with LitCharts A+