Mark Twain as the Defining Writer and Humorist of His Era
Mark Twain was an American humorist, journalist, lecturer, and novelist. He had the ability to allow the reader to feel the story by using such dialect, speech patterns and slang that had never been used before. (Parnell) ‘Twain’s works aren’t just written texts, but tangible artifacts of both American literary and cultural history.’ (Parnell) His work is timeless and unforgettable. Much of what he spoke out for and supported is still relevant today.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri and died on April 21, 1910, in Redding, Connecticut. He spent his childhood in the backwater of Hannibal, Missouri. Samuel did not receive a formal education but rather used life experiences as his education. He felt it foolish of those who would just the educational system with blind faith. (Khurana) He was able to use his childhood experiences in Missouri as inspiration for much of his work. Mark Twain started his career apprenticing as a printer and a brief period as a steamboat pilot. When the Civil War erupted he then served very briefly as a Confederate soldier before deserting. (Churchwell) He fled to the west where Confederate soldiers were unlikely to pursue him. He tried his hand at silver mining and when that failed returned under the name Mark Twain. Mark Twain ‘was riverboat term, meaning measuring two fathoms (12 feet) in depth, mark (measure) twain (two).’ (Mark Twain)
Mark Twain published his first book, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1876. Then the sequel, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ in February 1885, and in so doing so, changed American literature.’ (Ulin) Both of these books are considered literary classics. The book, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is now 181 years and still very relevant to many generations. These books were based on his experiences as a young boy living in the South. This enabled him to describe in great detail the landscape enabling the reader to see it. He also used his experience a steamboat pilot and the time he spent on the Mississippi River. Not many writers up to this point had flirted with vernacular expression before.
A vernacular expression is using language or dialect native to a region or country rather than a literary, cultured, or foreign language. (Merriam Webster Dictionary) He had used a whole new American language in his writing. This allowed the reader to get the story and really feel the experiences. (Ulin) He also had the ability to use real language that allowed the reader to interpret it as real speech. In 1885, this book was considered controversial because of the language used by Huck, as well as his casual morals. The book was actually banned in Concord, Massachusetts because of this. Which, he found very ironic since nobody had any problems with leaving a bible out in the open for all to read. Even today this book causes some objection to the modern reader they are not offended by the language he used specifically, the word nigger, which appears over 200 times throughout the book. But again he was in keeping in the language of the time. The modern reader today also found it very disturbing that Huck, readily accepted slavery. The realistic language he used came to influence many writers at that time. Despite what modern people of today may interpret from his work, Mark Twain was quite liberal for his day this is demonstrated in ‘Huckleberry Finn’. He shows his support for equality of all races. (Mark Twain) In this story, he shows his discontent for the poor treatment of the black Americans.
Regarding the book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ernest Hemmingway has been quoted saying ‘the best book we’ve had’, all American writing comes from that.’ (Stromness) Samuel Clemmons, aka Mark Twain, has gone on to influence many authors. He was then able to portray American culture in a way no one had experienced before. He had the ability to express his beliefs and concerns of American society at that time through critical remarks. (Stromness) This book is often referred to by many critics as the ‘Great American Novel.’ (Wood)
In the book, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ creates a 12-year-old boy of great mischief. This story portrays the classic mischievous of youth in America today. Mark Twain embodied the youth of that time, with the marble playing and whitewashing Even though, these are not activities of our youth today, they still seem relatable.
In both stories, he is able to demonstrate the realities of the hard times that had plagued the South at that time. Slavery and racism are very relevant at that time and he shows this in his stories. Though these stories were released after slavery had been abolished, they take place pre-civil war time era. He uses not only words when describing this, but also included many pictures in his books. The pictures in these books are worth a thousand words. These stories were created during the early 1800’s during the Reconstruction plan when the United States was trying to integrate slaves that were now free back into society. During this time when the Jim Crow laws were being implemented to help the freed slaves, but only to have the southern whites enacted laws of their own. His stories show the hypocrisy of slavery and racism. He also demonstrated his stance on imperialism and how he felt about it at the time. He was very critical of imperialism. He felt all acquired possessions came from someone else’s misgivings.
Mark Twain was also known as one of the most famous humorists still remembered today. He possessed the ability to use jokes that went to the root of human nature. Mark Twain once wrote, ‘Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.’ (Scharnhorst)The humor he uses is unique in the fact it does not depend on the time period but is universal. (Greenblatt) He not only used articles and books to amuse his audiences, he also used lectures to delight his audiences. Samuel Clemens did also expand his career and in 1895 to 1896 he took to the road and did a lecture tour. It toured through India, South Africa, and Australia. The tour was very successful and when he returned he was considered an international hero. (India) He would often tell stories of all the far-off places he had visited. He would use these opportunities to help promote his current published work.
One of the books that were famous for showcasing his humor was ‘The Gilded Age’. He used the word Gilded which meant covered in gold. This book was used to make fun of the very wealthy people of that time. (America’s Story) He was successful in making people laugh at the excessive spending of the rich. Another famous book that also showed his humor was, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’, this was a story of a boy who traveled back to King Arthur’s time. Twain expressed his feelings of how he found it amusing that some were given advantages not because they earned them, but simply for whom they knew. (America’s Story) He went on to speak out to the fact that there seemed to be double standards when it came to the wealthy and the poor. He felt the poor did not receive the same level of respect as the wealthy.
Mark Twain was able to reach various readers from different backgrounds and places. While the Tom Sawyer series reached the youth with all the silly adventures. He also reached the prominent society with his book, ‘The Prince and Pauper’ which was a story set in England in the 1500’s. This story was a young prince who exchanges identities with a poor boy.
Another example of Mark Twain’s courage to speak out in his short story, ‘The War Prayer’. This story is about a town getting ready to send their brothers, sons, and fathers off to war in hopes of victory. He goes on to describe what the outcome for the other side would be if the victory was obtained. Once again even though he knows it will not be a popular view of others he still goes on to write it. He was a true believer in free speech which was provided by the U. S Constitution. He often challenged and defended this many times throughout his career. Unfortunately, it was not published, when first submitted because of this. He is told publication of this piece would not be suitable for this time. It is not until after he dies that it is finally published to be shared by all. He never failed to speak out when he felt something was not fair or seemed not right. Samuel Clemens did also expand his career and in 1895 to 1896 he took to the road and did a lecture tour. He toured through India, South Africa, and Australia. The tour was very successful and when he returned he was considered an international hero. (India)
Unfortunately, in his later years, he seemed to lose that humor and focus more on human greed and cruelty. This led to him writing and giving anti-government speeches. Some viewed him as a traitor. This eventually led to some of his work not being published in his lifetime. Mark Twain is remembered though as one of the best-known humorists. He was able to use comic exaggeration to attack what he saw as false pride and self-satisfaction in humanity. (India) Today Mark Twain’s books and poetry are still studied in many classrooms across the country. He was respected worldwide by many authors for the way he was able to draw the reader in with his unusual style of writing. He did succumb to the traditional writing but let go to allow the reader to feel as if they were part of the story. He was also known for his great patriotism towards his country. His strong love of patriotism is still very strong today. School children everywhere stand and pledge allegiance to the flag showing to show our patriotism.
The birth and death of Samuel L Clemens saw comets. Shakespeare stated you don’t see comets when ordinary writers die. (Sutherland) Today his work is being evaluated by new angles and perspectives allowing Americans to see him more clearly than ever before. (Sutherland) Samuel L Clemens, aka Mark Twain, still seems to intrigue the interest of the American people today. In 2010, which marked the 100th year of his death an Autobiography was released and quickly became a best seller.
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