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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 31

Though this chapter contains not a grain of humor, many readers think it the most masterfully written in the novel. Twain infuses this misadventure with a nightmarish quality that makes the children's terror yours.

Tom and Becky wander off from their friends and explore the cave alone. Tom ducks behind a limestone "waterfall" and discovers a "natural stairway" into an unexplored section of the cave. Eager to discover new territory, he calls Becky, and they descend into the cave's "secret depths."

Inside an enormous room, the light of their candles excites hundreds of bats, who swoop down at the children. Tom hurries Becky into a corridor just as a bat extinguishes her candle with its wing.

NOTE: BUILDING SUSPENSE

As you read, keep track of the elements that raise your fears for the children's safety. Surely the maze-like caves, where it's easy to get lost, help create the atmosphere of suspense. Next, Twain notes the "vast knots of bats," adding a touch of menace to the adventure merely by mentioning them. Twain then has the bats chase the children and swat out Becky's candle. Suddenly, you are aware of another danger: the vulnerability of the children's source of light. To discover how he controls your emotions, put an X in the margin each time Twain intensifies the suspense by making you aware of a new danger. How might this episode be different if Twain had listed the cave's many dangers in a single paragraph early in the chapter?


While avoiding the bats, the children become totally lost. Tom pretends to be confident, but his assurances sound hollow and frighten Becky. Tom's shout returns to him as "a ripple of mocking laughter."

NOTE: TOM'S MATURITY

Despite moments of despair, Tom manages to keep a cool head throughout this episode and to demonstrate continued emotional growth. He takes the blame for their predicament, then feigns confidence so as not to frighten Becky. He is level- headed enough to seek out a spring and stop there. Watch for more signs of Tom's maturity throughout the chapter.

The children share a piece of cake that Becky saved from the picnic. Becky, who yields to her fears more readily than Tom, checks an impulse to call the cake their last meal. They watch their last candle flicker out.

They fall asleep, and when they awaken, Tom figures it must be Tuesday-three days after they entered the cave. Unraveling a kite string as he walks, Tom leads Becky down a corridor and is so startled to see Injun Joe that he shouts. Tom tells Becky, who didn't see Injun Joe, that he shouted only "for luck."

A long while later, back at the spring, Becky gives Tom permission to go exploring alone. She is sure they are doomed and makes him promise to hold her hand when the time comes to die. He kisses her and, with a show of confidence he really doesn't feel, he crawls away on his hands and knees, unraveling the kite line as he goes.

NOTE: A MOCK MARRIAGE?

Becky and Tom will never be closer than they are here. Their closeness leads some readers to think that in the final part of this chapter, Twain intends to suggest that the children are newlyweds. Becky sets the idea in motion when she speaks of "our wedding cake." The children eat and sleep, then promise to die together-a reminder of the final words of traditional wedding vows: "till death do us part." Finally, Tom shows a protectiveness toward Becky that, at least in literature, is often associated with husbands.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
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