Life Of Samuel Leghorn Clemens Essay Research

Life Of Samuel Leghorn Clemens Essay, Research Paper

CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne1835- 1910American INTRODUCTION Twain is considered the father of modern American literature and isknown in particular for his classic novel The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn (1884). Breaking with the genteel traditions of thenineteenth century, Twain developed a lively, vernacular narrative stylewhich served as the vehicle for his satirical observations concerninghuman folly and social injustice and which, during his lifetime, led towidespread denunciation of his works as coarse and improper.Subsequently, however, Twain’s works have come to be regarded as thefirst and finest literary expression of the American spirit ofpragmatism, egalitarianism, and honesty. Ernest Hemingway wrote: “Allmodern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain calledHuckleberry Finn…. There was nothing before. There has beennothing as good since.” BIOGRAPHY Clemens grew up in the Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Missouri,and he later noted that the river and the activities it supportedprovided some of the happiest moments of his childhood. At age twelvehe quit school to become a printer’s apprentice; by the time he wasseventeen he was also writing stories and sketches for the newspapershe helped print. During the late 1850s Clemens piloted steamboats on theMississippi, a job he held until the river was closed to commercialtraffic during the Civil War. After brief service in the Confederatemilitia, he traveled west, working as a silver miner and reporter inNevada and California. During this period Clemens began writing underthe pseudonym Mark Twain, an expression used by riverboat crews toindicate that the water at a given spot was two fathoms deep andtherefore easily navigable. In 1865 he published his first importantsketch, “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” in a New York periodical. Thestory was widely popular and was reprinted two years later in Twain’sfirst book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, andOther Sketches (1867), which appeared just as the author embarkedon a cruise to Europe and the Middle East. The satirical letters Twainwrote to two American newspapers during this voyage proved immenselypopular and were later collected as The Innocents Abroad; or, The NewPilgrim’s Progress (1869). The success of this volume and Twain’sgrowing reputation as a lecturer established him as the leading Americanhumorist. In 1874 Twain published his first novel, The Gilded Age,written in conjunction with Charles Dudley Warner. The Adventures ofTom Sawyer, a children’s book chronicling the adventures of amischievous boy in a Mississippi River town, appeared two years laterto wide acclaim, and Twain immediately afterward began work on a sequelcentering on Tom’s friend Huckleberry Finn. According to Twain, Huck wasinspired by the real-life Tom Blankenship, and Twain’s description ofBlankenship in his Autobiography could serve equally well forHuck: “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as gooda heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted.He was the only really independent person–boy or man–in thecommunity.” Huckleberry Finn records Huck’s adventures as heaccompanies Jim, an escaped slave, down the Mississippi in a quest forfreedom. Amid abundant social satire provided by the various charactersand situations Huck and Jim encounter, the narrative focuses on Huck’sdeveloping moral independence from the teachings of his society, andcritics agree that Huckleberry Finn far surpasses TomSawyer in the depth of both its characterization and its themes.Although many of Twain’s contemporaries objected to the novel’svernacular dialogue, coarse subject matter, and forthright socialcriticism, Huckleberry Finn was a great popular success. During the late 1880s and 1890s, Twain suffered a series of majorfinancial reverses, including the loss of hundreds of thousands ofdollars invested in the development of the unsuccessful Paigetypesetting machine, and many of his later works were written with the

specific aim of making money. He also resumed lecturing to augment hisearnings, and by 1900 he had repaid the vast bulk of his debts. As aresult of the hardships of the 1890s and the personal tragedies of theearly 1900s, which included the deaths of his wife and two of his threedaughters, Twain’s natural pessimism deepened into a fatalistic despair,and his work became more introspective and polemic. Critics have notedsigns of this developing attitude in Twain’s works as early as AConnecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, published in 1889, butnote that its most overt expression is contained in the essay WhatIs Man? (1906), wherein humanity is depicted as inherently foolishand self-destructive. Twain died in 1910, and his Autobiographywas posthumously published in 1924. Scholars recognize in Twain a man divided in outlook between comicand tragic perceptions of existence. Throughout his career he lookedback yearningly to the happy days of his youth on the shores of theMississippi, finding in his memories spritual rejuvenation andinspiration. At the same time he was skeptical about the wisdom ofhumanity and the possibility of progress in human society. His longingfor an idealized past as a haven from an increasingly hostile presentis evident in most of his major works of fiction. However, Twain alsobelieved that humanity had been given a chance to remedy its situationin the New World, where the foolish superstitions and false hierarchiesof Western Europe could be replaced with egalitarianism and the trueprogress represented by improved living conditions. As a result, Twain’sworks offer a compelling vision of the American frontier. InHuckleberry Finn, for example, the frontier as exemplified by theMississippi River allows Huck to escape the moral and social stricturesof civilization and, confronted by the awesome power and beauty ofnature, to develop an awareness of the importance of such simple valuesas courage, honesty, and common sense. Twain remains one of the most widely read authors in Americanliterature, and, from the prime of his career through the present, hiswork has remained an object of critical puzzlement and publiccontroversy. While quick to praise his wit, inventiveness, and masteryof colloquial language, critics have not reached consensus on theserious elements of Twain’s fiction. Scholars have noted that, althoughTwain addressed a number of political and philosophical topics,especially in his later work, he often appeared to support conflictingsides of the same issues. Twain’s detractors, similarly, have censured–and often banned–his work for ideologically varied reasons, accusingit of profanity, misanthropy, and, more recently in the case ofHuckleberry Finn, racism in its characterization of Jim. Perhapsthe author anticipated the volatility of his body of work when, in thepreface to Huckleberry Finn, he wrote: “[Persons] attempting tofind a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plotin it will be shot.” That Twain’s oeuvre continues to provokesuch interest and debate is testament to the enduring power of itssatire and of its ideas. PERSONAL: Born November 30, 1835, in Florida, MO; died of heartdisease, April 21, 1910, in Redding, CT; buried in Elmira, NY; son ofJohn Marshall (a lawyer) and Jane (Lampton) Clemens; married OliviaLangdon, February 2, 1870 (died, 1904); children: Langdon, Olivia Susan,Clara, Jean Lampton. CAREER: Writer. Worked as printer’s apprentice and typesetter inHannibal, MO, 1847-50; associated with Hannibal Journal, 1850-52;typesetter, 1853-57; apprentice riverboat pilot, 1857-59; riverboatpilot, 1859-60; secretary and government worker in Nevada, 1860-62;miner, 1862; Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City, NV, reporter(sometimes under pseudonym Mark Twain), 1862-64; Morning Call,San Francisco, CA, reporter under Twain pseudonym, 1864; SacramentoUnion, Sacramento, CA, correspondent under Twain pseudonym, 1866;Daily Morning, San Francisco, correspondent under Twainpseudonym, 1866-69; Buffalo Express, editor under Twainpseudonym, 1869-71. Owner of Charles L. Webster & Co. (publishers) inearly 1880s. MILITARY/WARTIME SERVICE: Confederate Army during Civil War;became second lieutenant. AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary M.A., Yale University, 1888; Litt.D., Yale


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