The Sign of the Beaver Study Guide

The Sign of the Beaver By Elizabeth George Speare

The Sign of the Beaver is the story of Matt, a young boy left to guard his family's stake in the wilds of Main in 1786, who is taken in by a group of Indians and befriended, then forced to decide between waiting for his family's return or moving with the Indians as they go westward toward new hunting grounds.

At the beginning of the tale, Matt and his father build a wooden cottage in the Maine wilderness. The rest of Matt's family has been left behind in Massachusetts, so Matt's father goes back for them, leaving Matt with a rifle and an heirloom watch. Unfortunately, Matt's rifle is stolen, the crops are picked over by the wild life, and his food supplies are ravaged by a hungry bear.

Matt attempts to feed himself by obtaining honey from a hive, but the bees attack and he his forced to dive into a lake to escape. He injures himself, but the Indians that his father taught him to fear are able to pull him out and save his life. Indebted to them, Matt agrees to teach the chief's son, Attean, to read English.

The two help each other through several difficult circumstances, eventually becoming strong friends. Matt's family, who were supposed to return promptly, fail to appear after several months; the tribe in the meantime concludes that it's time to move west. Matt is forced to choose: stay at the cabin and wait for a family that may never return, or join the tribe and never see his family again?

Near the end of the story, Attean prepares to embark on a spirit quest. He is afraid it will be some time before he will return. Matt longs for his friend to stay, but is happy to see him becoming a man. The two trade gifts, Attean leaving Matt his dog and Matt giving away the heirloom watch his father left him. Matt finally realizes that his friend's faith in finding his spirit guide is paralleled in his own faith in the return of his family, and decides to leave the tribe as they move west. In the end, Matt's family returns and his faith is validated.

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