Big Read Recap: Chs. XXIX - XXXII

Whether you are a child or an adult, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a wonderful read. But isn’t it amazing how different the experience is reading the book as a child versus reading it as an adult?

Looking back on reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a youth, it rejuvenates memories of a spooky graveyard, playing pranks on adults and exploring life and everything in it to its fullest. There was danger, adventure, and great mysteries to be solved within its covers.

As an adult, much bolder issues blot the story’s pages – discrimination based on social class, the effects of alcoholism, and slavery, to name a few. While these deeper social elements embedded within the text don’t ruin the second reading of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, they do add a few pounds of emotional weight and a few layers of literary meat to its juvenile bones that didn’t come with the original childhood reading.

As a mature reader, Chapters XXIX-XXXII become particularly interesting as several characters stop being one-dimensional and begin to develop outside of their stereotype. Huck is a perfect example. For the first time in the story, he is seen without Tom, making his own decisions and choices. Twain finally allows readers to see Huck as not just the poor kid in the village who everyone pities and avoids, but as a secret hero who helps save the Widow Douglas’s life.

Tom also grows as a character in this section. Instead of just being a silly, selfish boy with whims, Tom shows signs of true courage, increasing maturity, and sincere caring for Becky as they try to find their way out of McDougal’s Cave.

Even Injun Joe shows development in this part of the book. Rather than just being the novel’s “bad guy,” Twain exposes him as a truly evil, vindictive, person who is a serious danger to society. When you discover what he wants to do the Widow Douglas and why, a dark edge is added not only to Injun Joe’s personality, but to the entire story.

In reality, no matter what part of the book you read or whether you read the story as a child or an adult, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a tale to be enjoyed by all. Perhaps Twain knew when he wrote the book that it contained aspects of both a children’s story and an adult novel that when combined would help it stand the test of time and the scrutiny of its readers and critics of all ages.

Chapter XXIX

On Friday morning, Tom is elated. Judge Thatcher and his family have returned from their vacation. Tom, Becky and their classmates spend the day playing “hi-spy” and “gully keeper.” Mrs. Thatcher agrees to let Becky have her long-awaited picnic the next day, and invitations are sent out.
The next morning all the children gather at the Thatcher home to begin the day’s fun – which includes a chartered ferry-boat ride. Tom and Becky make secret plans to stop at the Widow Douglas’s home for ice cream later and run off with the other children to enjoy the day.

Three miles below town, the ferry boat ties off at the mouth of a woody hollow and everyone goes ashore. After food and games, bundles of candles are given out and everyone heads to McDougal’s Cave to explore its dark, winding corridors. As night nears, the children leave the cave and reboard the ferry. Huck Finn watches from shore while the boat churns by, loaded with tired boys and girls.

As 10 o’clock approaches, the sky turns black and cloudy. The town becomes dark and quiet. Huck is positioned in his hideout watching the alley and the door to “Number Two.” Suddenly he hears the door close and two men brush past him. With no time to signal Tom, Huck decides to follow the men alone and learn more about their hidden treasure. He watches them creep through town and then up the path to Cardiff Hill. Huck temporarily loses them in the darkness, and is startled when one of the men begins to speak just feet away from him. It is the blood-chilling voice of Injun Joe.

Huck hears Injun Joe plotting aloud, “When you want to get revenge on a woman you don’t kill her – bosh! You go for her looks. You slit her nostrils – you notch her ears like a sow.” Huck is horrified to learn they are speaking about the Widow Douglas, and that Injun Joe wants revenge on her for her husband horsewhipping him in public years before.
The two men approach the Widow Douglas’s house and determine she must have company since they can still see lights burning. They settle in to wait. As silently as possible Huck Finn slips away and heads for the Welchman’s home nearby to get help.

After hearing Huck’s terrifying story, the Welchman gathers his sons and their weapons. They race out to find the two strangers lurking outside the Widow Douglas’s house.
Huck decides to hide behind a boulder and wait for the Welchman to return. All of a sudden “the explosion of firearms and a cry fill the air.” Alarmed, Huck darts off into the deep forest looking for safety and cover.

Chapter XXX

The next morning at dawn, Huck returns from the woods. He raps on the Welchman’s door and asks to come in. Not only is he invited in, he is given breakfast. The Welchman tells Huck that he and his sons weren’t able to catch the prowlers the night before because he sneezed as they approached the men. The prowlers dashed away with the Welchman and his sons firing bullets at them. Somehow they were not hit and escaped capture...for now.

Huck explains that the two men are actually the “deaf and dumb Spaniard” and the “rusty, ragged looking devil” who have been hanging around town. The Welchman knows who they are since he also recently spotted them lurking about the Widow Douglas’s property. He immediately sends his sons to find the dangerous criminals.

Now alone with the Welchman, Huck accidentally divulges to him that he was following the two outlaws the night before. Once the Welchman promises complete secrecy and protection for Huck, he also divulges that the Spaniard is actually Injun Joe in disguise. Huck doesn’t mention anything to the Welchman about Injun Joe’s hidden treasure. There is a sudden knock at the door and Huck immediately hides. The Widow Douglas and several townspeople are there to thank the Welchman for his assistance the night before. He explains that he is not the real hero, but that the real hero does not want to be known.

At church that morning, neither Becky nor Tom appear. After the sermon, Mrs. Thatcher and Aunt Polly realize that the children did not spend the night with the Harpers after the picnic, and neither of the children have been seen since they entered McDougal’s Cave the day before. Within thirty minutes, 200 men are headed to the cave to look for Becky and Tom.

As the next day dawns, Huck is ill with a high fever, and the children are still missing. The only clues are a soiled piece of ribbon and the names “BECKY AND TOM” traced on the cave wall in candle smoke.

The searchers scour the cave for three days and nights without finding any further trace of Tom or Becky. While the townsfolk try to remain hopeful, Huck lies in bed and wonders about Injun Joe’s secret treasure.

Thomas Hart Benton, Chapter XXXI Heading, "Lost and Found Again" from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (The Limited Editions Club, 1939)

Chapter XXXI

As the other children leave McDougal’s Cave and return to the ferry, Tom and Becky continue to explore deep inside the tentacles of their underground world. At first they leave markings on the cave wall to help them find their way out, but their candle light disturbs the bats, and they are swarmed by the winged cave dwellers. Tom and Becky dart through unknown passages until they are unsure of where they are. Afraid to go back in the same direction, they keep moving forward, hoping to find a way out.

The children survive on a piece of leftover cake and cave water while they hunt for an exit from their cavernous coffin. They search until their candles are used up and they are left in silence and darkness. Becky cries and Tom comforts her, trying to keep his spirits up for both of them. At one point they hear voices in the distance and are sure they will be rescued, but they cannot get to the voices before the hopeful echos move away and leave them in silence once again.  

By now Tom and Becky have been in the cave for three days. Becky has accepted her inevitable death while Tom still searches for any sign of a way out. As he maneuvers down a side passage, he sees a human hand in the distance holding a candle. Then he see that the hand belongs to Injun Joe. Tom screams while Injun Joe turns and runs away. Once again in total darkness, Tom makes his way back to Becky, only telling her he screamed “for luck.” As a weakened Becky lies on the ground waiting to die, Tom musters up the courage to keep searching for a way out. He kisses his lovely Becky and sets out once again to find an exit from the cave.

Chapter XXXII

By Tuesday afternoon, the entire town is in mourning. Tom and Becky have not been found and everyone is accepting the fact that they are dead.

That night, in the darkest hours, the village bells begin ringing and the words, “They’re found!” are shouted. For the rest of the night the entire village is awake celebrating and listening to Tom tell how he found a small speck of daylight shining into the cave. He elaborates by telling his eager audience how he and Becky pushed through that small hole and found themselves five miles down the river from where they started.

After Tom recovers from his latest adventure, he visits Huck, whom the Widow Douglas is still nursing back to health. On the way, he stops at Judge Thatcher’s house and learns that the cave entrance has been sealed. He also learns that Injun Joe’s accomplice was found dead in the river. Tom excitedly tells Judge Thatcher that Injun Joe is still in the cave.

Discuss!

Which character has grown and developed the most in the story so far, Tom or Huck, and why? Does this book make us remember our childhoods as they really were or how we would like our memories of childhood to be?

Previous Recaps
Chs. I-IV
Chs. V-VIII
Chs. IX-XII
Chs. XIII-XVI
Chs. XVII-XX
Chs. XXI-XXIV
Chs. XXV-XXVIII

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.