likens man to insect as a way of implying that both species are equally
insignificant. In the "showing off" scene at the Sunday school during Judge
Thatcher's visit, "The librarian 'showed off' - running hither and thither with
his arms full of books and making a deal of the splutter and fuss that insect
authority delights in." The image deflates the man's unwarranted
metaphorical use of the insect occurs when Tom's conscience is tortured by his
knowledge that Muff Potter may be hanged because of his silence over the
murder. There is a violent thunderstorm, which Tom interprets as God's wrath
against him: "It might have seemed to him [God] a waste of pomp and ammunition
to kill a bug with a battery of artillery, but there seemed nothing incongruous
about the getting up such an expensive thunderstorm as this to knock the turf
from under an insect like himself." On one hand, Tom considers himself as
insignificant as an insect; on the other, because he specializes in casting
himself as a hero at the center of things, he is convinced that he is important
enough in God's eyes to merit a "battery of artillery."
are used in church and school scenes to comment satirically on the events.
While Tom is supposed to be listening to a prayer in church, he finds himself
more fascinated by a housefly cleaning itself. His detailed observation of the
fly comments indirectly on the tediousness, emptiness and insignificance of the
prayer from Tom's point of view. A subsequent scene, in which the entire
congregation's attention is stolen away from the sermon to to antics of a bug
and a poodle, carries the same satirical flavor: when it comes to a contest
between a bug and religion, the bug is the winner.
When Tom finds
himself bored by his school lesson, he directs the movements of a tick on his
slate, using a pin. The tick becomes a symbol of how the school tries to
control Tom. It also reveals his selfish character: Tom is impatient when the
tick is on his friend Joe's side of the slate, and changes the rules he himself
drew up, in order to recover control over the tick.
The town of
view St Petersburg as a microcosm of America. It contains in microcosm all the
great institutions: public morality, the law, education, religion, medicine, and
economics, enabling Twain to satirize them all. In this context, Tom, Huck and
Joe Harper's escape to Jackson's island symbolizes their withdrawal from
mainstream society as part of a rite of passage; they will re-enter society as
more mature people.
stories of heroes and in more modern adventure stories, as a rite of passage
marking the transition between boyhood and manhood, the hero often descends
into a cave or labyrinth, where he undergoes ordeals. If he shows courage and
passes the ordeals, he gains a treasure and returns with it to society,
enriched and enriching others. Twain's novel follows this mythical tradition,
which symbolizes the hero's withdrawal of his senses from the external world of
illusion so that he can discover an eternal inner truth or self-knowledge (the
treasure). Though Tom's irresponsibility leads to his getting himself and Becky
lost in the cave, he acts with resourcefulness, courage and compassion and is
able to get both of them out. Though he does not find the treasure on this
occasion, he later realizes that this is where it is hidden, and returns with
Huck to claim it.
particularly gold, is an ancient symbol of self-knowledge or wisdom. This holds
true in this novel, with Tom and Huck having to show courage, selflessness and
resourcefulness in 'earning' the treasure. It has a second meaning, too,
symbolizing the boys' leaving behind their childish trashy "treasures" and
their entry into the adult monetary system. Both meanings carry the sense of a
rite of passage from childhood to manhood.