Mark Twain, The Father of American Literature
His roots began in the office for his local newspaper, but soon enough he became a household name that shaped American literature. William Faulkner dubbed him as the father of American Literature. His most notable works include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Even Ernest Hemingway wrote that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the basis for all modern American literature (“Mark Twain’s Literary Influence”); the novel has also been dubbed at the Great American Novel. Samuel Clemens, or better known as his pen name of Mark Twain, remains a household name even a hundred years after his death. His books are studied in high school classrooms all over, and he is still central to the American way of life. His voice was very unique, and his use of the common vernacular helped show the voice he had. The novels he wrote are relatable, timeless, and inspirational to the American youth. His books remain the main template for how young adult fiction should be written. And lastly, he was a very progressive writer.
Mark Twain’s use of diction helped set him apart from other authors of the time. He was one of the first to correctly utilize and verbalize southern speech in his writings. This use of vernacular created a specific voice, and made his novels seem more real; the Southwestern humor that was crude, and cruel helped form the foundation of his style and voice, and what made him be seen as a “Great American Author” by writing in the “true American” language. Leslie Fiedler says that Twain’s language is not English; it is American – which is to say it is the language of ex-Englishman who, by inventing it without really quite realizing what they were doing, invented a new language based on English. She says his language is demotic, colloquial, and vulgar – which is perfect for the characters who Twain chose to write through. His writing voice was American, and this encompassed the wittiness and sarcasm he was known for.
Growing up in Missouri helped him create the voice he is widely known for. His unique voice was crafted by this vernacular and the grammar he presented helped strengthen the characters and their personalities. Twain liked to use realism in his works of literature by describing the people, actions, emotions, and the things around them as closely as possible to convey the sense that you were really there. Everything is supposed to feel real with no hints of fiction, so the characters reflect the location precisely. With the use of realism, it was easy to convey the use of regionalism which would focus on the specific area the character was in. His writing style helped shape the imagery that was saw in his novels. You could actually see a young man traveling down the Mississippi river banks.
In addition to his unique voice, Twain would use satire to expose the problems of the world around him, which shows his progressive side as a writer and person. This satire was present in all his writings. His unique perspective of social issues maintains its relevancy today. Twain had a quick wit that was known by all his fans. Although he originally wanted to be renowned as a serious writer, he started to distance himself from his formal writing barrier and became a great humorist. While humor changes from generation to generation, you can still find laughter in Twain’s writing, which is due to the fact that his humor delves deep into human nature and is still relatable. He helps portray the American experience, being alive in a United States that is becoming quickly industrialized as the days more forward. The sarcasm and humor in each of his writings give his works a timeless feel to them because they never seem to go out of style. Being timeless is achieving a goal that your writing is so excellent and alluring that not even the continuing changes of society will effect it. Since his writings are unchanged and still relatable, which helps give inspiration to those who write.
Many writers credit Twain to giving them inspiration. There are many articles that have been written to give tips on how to write like Twain, because he is so influential. Those tips include eliminating unnecessary words, do not be a writer just for the money because you will end up disappointed, take a break from projects to cure writers block, among others (“12 Timeless…”). Mark Twain remains an inspiration for many people today. His clear wisdom with words gives people insight on how they should and could live their lives. He does not just inspire writers of the generations after him, but of normal and ordinary people. He inspired people to always tell the truth, because it is easier to remember. He told people that they needed to reflect on themselves if you find yourself going down the same path as others. The words of wisdom from Twain are endless. Even today, you feel he wants you to do great. Because of his timeless words, the advice stays strong. With authors, he remains an even bigger inspiration to the style and writings of those considered great. Hemingway’s prose stems directly and consciously from Twain’s prose that, when you overlook the grammar and spelling, moves with the greatest simplicity, directness, lucidity, and grace (Nordquist). It is known that those who also influenced Hemingway’s writing, Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson, was also influenced and inspired by Twain’s prose. It is seen that William Faulkner’s prose reinforces the colloquial tradition with the literary tradition, which is much like Twain’s (Nordquist). Some of the greatest writers in our known history have given praise to Mark Twain and his works. His books are credited with helping writers discover literature and helped their own development as writers (“Mark Twain’s literary Influence”).
It is commonly accepted that the beginning of American literature begins with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His works helped bring localism to American literature, while also being able to portray his characters correctly in line with the localism. His writing was different from those of British writings by looking at the issues that America was facing with the poor and rich, industrialization, slavery/freedom, and even introduces one of the first major black characters that were not just a slave, but friends. Much of the population thought that literature was supposed to be elegant and grand, not something with the vernacular that Twain provided (Nordquist). This caused people to start exclaiming, “Who would ever read American literature?” due to the way it was written. By using vernacular, Twain effectively created this template that other writers would use, which makes the story more interesting and real.
As a writer during the Civil War era, Twain had a sense of being unafraid per se. He spewed and wrote about politics, ideals, and cultural ideas of any other writers. In Huckleberry Finn, Huck (a white boy) and Jim (a black boy and slave) strike up a friendship, which was uncommon and unimaginable. He nods to interracial friendships while writing about slavery and freedom. He traveled a great deal, which opened his eyes and ears to vernaculars/dialects, cultures, and adventures. This kept him open minded. Yet, his views on politics were shaky- some call him a liberal while others scream conservative. He was a classical liberal, which is more close to a laissez-faire radical or libertarian today. He had a strong antiwar position (Tucker). He would write about the caste/class system in novels such as the Prince and the Pauper; this details that power corrupts (Tucker). His experiences are tied into each of his novels while he also writes about living in a changing world that is becoming very quickly industrialized. His writings were progressive for the time, and that is what helped shape American literature.
As with his life, Mark Twain was Lt. Clemens who was supposed to defend Missouri and the pro-confederates. He had to decide which path to take – fight for the Missouri State Guard and accept some kind of slavery, or lead a dissolute life in the Nevada Territory (Schmitz). Twain was against the war and was not for slavery, so he deserted. This led him to write more on his experiences with the war. As a writer, he didn’t merely inspire readers and writers alike with his fiction, but spoke truth through many of his essays and articles, many of which were radical editorial; The War Prayer was not published until after his death because he did not know how readers would react to it. Even as a young journalist, before becoming known for his novels, Twain wrote with an immense outrage of the cruelty that Chinese immigrants in San Francisco were being exposed to (Peyser). He wrote against the treatment and for concern of Italian immigrants. He liked to write about social criticisms and that wrapped in with his satire of the social world in his fiction writings- for example, the treatment of the Italian twins in Puddn’head Wilson (Peyser).
Many of his essays and fiction shows his progressive view points; an example of this is his essay titled Advice to Little Girls. In this essay, he is being witty and has a deeper meaning in it that tells girls to think for themselves, while also being polite. He wants girls to not talk back when their mother asks them to do a task, then “afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.” This was a progressive opinion when it was written in 1867.Mark Twain was the voice American literature needed to come out of its shell. Many of the greatest authors agree there was no one like Twain, and that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a novel never to be beat, and the novel that influenced American literature. He uses his unique voice to tell the stories, which creates timeless yet inspirational pieces. His works inspire the writings of many, and is seen as a template for American literature. He was a writer who spoke what he believed, and was very progressive. His views were unique for his time, and some would call him a classic liberal. All of these qualities makes him a household name and someone that has influenced American literature like no one else. He was such an influential and alluring writer that he was born right after Halley’s Comet passed by in 1835, and died just one day after Halley’s comet passed in 1910. Mark Twain helped set American literature apart from the British literature, thus making the first American culture aspect related to literature, as his voice was considered to be distinctly American. He spoke about the issues that were distinct to American problems, and created an understanding of living in a constant industrializing world.
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