Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The cave represents a trial that Tom has to pass before he can graduate into maturity. Coming-of-age stories often involve tests in which the protagonist is separated from the rest of the society for a period of time and faces significant dangers or challenges. Only after having survived on the strength of his personal resources is Tom ready to rejoin society.
The storm on Jackson’s Island symbolizes the danger involved in the boys’ removal from society. It forms part of an interruptive pattern in the novel, in which periods of relative peace and tranquility alternate with episodes of high adventure or danger. Later, when Tom is sick, he believes that the storm hit to indicate that God’s wrath is directed at him personally. The storm thus becomes an external symbol of Tom’s conscience.
The treasure is a symbolic goal that marks the end of the boys’ journey. It becomes a indicator of Tom’s transition into adulthood and Huck’s movement into civilized society. It also symbolizes the boys’ heroism, marking them as exceptional in a world where conformity is the rule.
Many readers interpret the small village of St. Petersburg as a microcosm of the United States or of society in general. All of the major social institutions are present on a small scale in the village and all are susceptible to Twain’s comic treatment. The challenges and joys Tom encounters in the village are, in their basic structure, ones that he or any reader could expect to meet anywhere.