After his triumphant return from the cave, Tom regains his sense of perspective and leads Huck back to the cave to find the treasure. Their plan for a “robber band,” which Tom will in fact establish in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, marks a return to the world of boyhood fantasy, as it resembles the pirate band they create on Jackson’s Island and the outlaws they pretend to be in Sherwood Forest. Tom and Huck also return to their boyhood mind-set in the cave when they argue about superstition. But the way Tom deflects Huck’s arguments, enabling the conversation topic to move beyond superstition so that the boys can get the gold, displays his increasing maturity.
When the Widow Douglas adopts Huck, not only his treasure but also his life become subject to adult control. As Huck and Tom change upstairs in the Widow Douglas’s house before her dinner party, Huck is so worried about the life that awaits him that he attempts to persuade Tom to escape. Tom dismisses Huck’s fears, promising to “take care of [Huck],” but Huck’s worries prove well founded. Not long after he and Tom go downstairs together, the secret of their riches is revealed, and they are quickly ushered into the daunting adult world.
Tom is far more ready than Huck to enter the adult community. When we first meet Huck, Twain writes, “Tom envied him his gaudy outcast condition”; now Tom urges Huck to embrace respectability. The Tom we meet in the first chapter, with jam on his face and mischief on his mind, has given way to a boy who defends the adult order by preventing Huck from escaping out the window. Tom is not yet a man and still has plans for a robber gang, but Judge Thatcher is already talking about sending him to the military academy and law school. When Tom finds Huck after he has attempted to run away from the Widow Douglas’s house, he couches his appeal to return in the language of childhood, telling Huck that he needs to be respectable to be in the robber band. But we sense that Tom is using this rhetoric to appeal to Huck because, with his newfound money and status, Tom has a stake in adult society that he wants to defend.
Twain’s closing words wrap up matters for Tom and Huck and usher them into adult society without actually showing them as adults. Their gold, which has been pursued without the adults’ knowledge as a kind of game, is no longer a game. The gold has become a business so serious that Judge Thatcher, the most significant and authoritative figure in the adult hierarchy, assumes control of it. Gone are Huck’s plans to spend it all on candy, although on a dollar a day, he will happily be able to enjoy his share of sweets.
There is a note of sadness in Twain’s concluding statement that Tom’s story will soon become “the history of a man.” The woods and fields around St. Petersburg, where Tom plays Robin Hood, pirates, and Indians, have given way to the world of money invested at interest. The freedom of childhood, represented by Huck, has been absorbed by the adult order. The novel, which mixes a nostalgia for the carefree days of youth with illuminating criticism of adult society, cannot but regret the conclusion of childhood, even while recognizing—as Tom tries to enable Huck to recognize—the importance of moving toward maturity and sophistication.