Summary—Chapter 30: Tom and Becky in the Cave

The next morning, a Sunday, Huck creeps to the Welshman’s house and learns that the whole town is out looking for the deaf and mute Spaniard and his companion—both of whom the old man and his sons chased away the night before. (The Welshman does not yet know the Spaniard’s true identity.) Huck then describes how he followed the intruders the previous night. He tries not to mention the treasure, but eventually he describes the deaf and mute man’s speech and so has to admit that the Spaniard is actually Injun Joe. The Welshman tells him that the package the two men were carrying contained burglary tools, which relieves Huck considerably, because it means that the treasure must still be in the tavern.

Soon everyone has heard about the events at the widow’s house, but the Welshman keeps the identity of the boy who saved the widow a secret, in order to make it a great surprise. At church that morning, everyone discusses the excitement, and then Mrs. Thatcher asks Mrs. Harper where Becky is. Mrs. Harper says that Becky did not stay with her, and then Aunt Polly appears, wondering where Tom is. Eventually everyone realizes, to a collective horror, that Tom and Becky must still be in the cave.

A search party is organized and sets out for the cave immediately. The day drags on with no word from the missing children, and Huck, meanwhile, acquires a fever. The Widow Douglas, who remains ignorant of Huck’s actions the previous night, takes care of him. Eventually, the searchers in the cave begin to give up—the only traces found of the children are the words “BECKY & TOM,” written on the cave walls in candle-smoke soot, and one of Becky’s ribbons.

In the days that follow, the town discovers that Temperance Tavern serves liquor. When Huck wakes from his feverish sleep at one point, he asks Widow Douglas if anything has been found at the Temperance Tavern. She tells him that alcohol has been discovered and the tavern shut down, so Huck assumes the treasure is gone. Tom and Becky remain lost.

Summary—Chapter 31: Found and Lost Again

The story returns to Tom and Becky on the day of the picnic. They wander away from the larger group, exploring and using smoke to make marks on the walls so that they can find their way back. Eventually, they come to a large room filled with bats, and the bats attack them and chase them into unknown passages. After escaping the bats, they realize how far from the others they are and decide to go back, but they cannot go the way they came, as the bats are blocking it. Tom chooses another passage to follow, and, after a while, they realize they are completely lost. Tom hasn’t made any marks, and even finding the bats again seems impossible.

The couple wanders on, occasionally calling for help. Becky sleeps for a time. When she wakes up, they realize that their parents will not miss them until the following day. Despair sets in for a while. They then hear the voices of rescuers and call in reply. The search parties do not hear them, and the children find their way blocked by crevices and pitfalls. The voices grow fainter and eventually cease. The children grope their way to a spring and sit down, knowing they will soon run out of candles.

While Becky sleeps, Tom explores side passages with the aid of a kite line. He sees a candle on the other side of a pitfall and then sees Injun Joe holding it and retreats in terror. Not wanting to frighten Becky, he doesn’t tell her what he has seen, and he continues to explore other passages.

Summary—Chapter 32: “Turn Out! They’re Found!"

Tuesday night arrives, and Tom and Becky still have not been found. Only Judge Thatcher and a few companions continue searching the cave. Then, in the middle of the night, news arrives that the children have turned up, and St. Petersburg celebrates. The children are taken to the Thatcher house, where a weakened Tom describes their escape. The kite string ran out while he was exploring a gallery, and he was about to turn back when he saw a speck of daylight in the distance. He abandoned the string and crawled forward until he could push through a hole and see the Mississippi River. He then went back and found Becky, and from there, the two crawled out and went to the nearest house, five miles downstream from the cave.

Judge Thatcher and the last searchers learn that the children have been found. Tom and Becky are bedridden for most of the rest of the week. Tom goes to see the invalid Huck that Friday, but the Widow Douglas warns him to avoid any upsetting topics. Tom learns about Injun Joe’s attempt against the widow and also hears that Injun Joe’s companion was found drowned while trying to escape.

Two weeks after he finds his way out of the cave, Tom talks to Judge Thatcher and is told that the door of the cave has been shut and bolted from the outside to prevent anyone else from getting lost. Tom becomes horrified and tells the judge that Injun Joe remains in the caverns.

Analysis—Chapters 30–32

At the end of Chapter 29, the novel seems to be moving toward a final confrontation at the Widow Douglas’s house, but that resolution is thwarted when the Welshman chases off Injun Joe. Twain also removes Huck from the action by having him get sick. This temporary elimination of two main characters leaves the novel’s focus on Tom and Becky, lost in the cave. Twain narrates the episode of their entrapment with superb realism and suspense. We experience vividly their hunger and their fear, their swings between hope and despair.

We can view the cave scene as a miniature version of Tom’s entire journey toward maturity. Tom’s immaturity and his lack of foresight lead him and Becky to stay away from the others for too long and to forget to make marks on the walls so that they can find their way back to the entrance. Once they are lost, however, Tom rises to the occasion. He assumes responsibility for his mistakes, behaves generously toward Becky, and takes practical measures like saving candles and finding a spring to sit by once the candles are nearly gone. Tom takes the initiative to explore the side passages around the spring, while Becky, who is less rugged, sleeps or lies in a daze. Eventually, Tom’s persistence and continued resourcefulness lead him and Becky out of the cave. As Tom matures, his adaptability develops, along with his willingness to accept his own mistakes.

Read more about the symbolism behind the cave.

Tom’s dramatic nature and active imagination have made him terribly afraid of Injun Joe, but we have every reason to believe that Injun Joe may be more afraid than Tom. Tom’s explanation for Injun Joe’s flight from him in the cave is that Injun Joe didn’t recognize him. Tom is convinced that Injun Joe wants to kill him for having testified at his trial, but it is likely that Injun Joe really doesn’t care too much about Tom. Rather, Injun Joe seems more concerned about his own fate.

Read more about important quotes on the subject of imagination.

Although Twain relates Tom and Becky’s three days in the cave from the points of view of Tom and Becky, he depicts their climactic escape from the cave from the point of view of the townspeople, who have been suffering while searching for three days. When Tom and Becky return, the town explodes in celebration, in a manner that parallels the boys’ return from Jackson’s Island earlier in the novel. In both cases, the town believes Tom to be dead, and in both cases, we see the children’s reappearance through the eyes of the community—the angle from which the suspense is greatest.