Mark Twain Essay, Research Paper
Twain had a nature within him to write about his surroundings, and he critiqued it through his satirical commentary. When the public made this task difficult, he was forced to develop different types of masks for his satires, his main one being humor. That is one reason why Twain is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining authors of all time, he appeals to many different types of people, of all ages and backgrounds.
Due to his regionalist style of writing, it is necessary to describe Mark Twain\’s background. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri in 1835. At the age of four he moved to a town called Hannibal, a Mississippi river port that was to become a large influence on his future writing. (Brooks, 20) In perhaps his greatest novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the sections dealing with Huck and his father are most likely connected to this time in Clemens\’ life. He and his father Marshall were never very close, and never exchanged more than a handshake before going to bed. Twain later remembers how his father left his brother Orion behind when the family moved from Florida to Hannibal. Twain could imagine the \”grisly deep silence\” that must have fallen upon his brother. (Brooks, 20)
His induction into the writing business came in 1851 when he started helping out working for his brother\’s Hannibal Journal. Granted this job did not entail much freelance writing, but it may have helped set the roots for his career. He worked at multiple other jobs in other states doing the same types of things, until he became a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. This job was interrupted by the Civil War, where he served briefly in the Confederate Cavalry. (Brooks, 20)
In 1862, he moved to Nevada where he became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise. One year later, Samuel Clemens adopted the pseudonym \”Mark Twain,\” a phrase he\’d picked up on the Mississippi riverboat meaning \”two fathoms deep\” (a.k.a. barely safe for navigation). In Nevada, Twain noted how common murders were in Virginia City, and how they were worth hardly more than one or two lines in the newspaper ; it was mostly this violence that eventually caused him to move out of Nevada. It is also this environment affected by the California Gold Rush of 1849, which affected Twain\’s creativity. The creative mind is the most sensitive mind, the most highly individualized, the most complicated in its range of desires, in circumstances where individuality cannot register itself, it undergoes the most general and the most painful repression. The more imaginative a man was, the more he would naturally have felt himself restrained and chafed by such a life as that of the gold-seekers. (Lynn, 187)
While still situated in this restricting environment, Twain continued his writings in the newspaper and soon became very popular. The way he accomplished this popularity was by relieving his frustrations by concealing them beneath harmless jokes. It was in this manner that he had vented his hatred for pioneer life, while at the same time becoming immensely popular with the locals. As one man put it \”Men laughed when they could no longer swear.\” (Microsoft Encarta) Twain\’s articles criticizing his violent surroundings had titles such as Killing of Julius Caesar \”localized,\” and Cannibalism in the Cars . These sorts of articles were of course only tall tales, but they were told so vividly that other newspapers sometimes reported them as true. The miners of the town could only tolerate his criticism of their lives to a point. It was at this point that Twain decided to move to San Francisco and escape the possibility of he being the next victim of violent crime. (Lynn, 188)
His San Francisco life was much less glorious. He immediately started doing what had served him well in the past, muckraking articles troubling the locals. He wrote several severe articles dealing with institutions and officials, yet somehow only one of them found its way into the newspaper. This caused Twain to lose interest, and he began writing as a correspondent for his old Nevada paper. In this position he was now allowed to write articles as fierce as he\’d always wanted to, not offend the readers because he was criticizing another area. It is understandable that the people of San Francisco were not happy to hear someone living there was writing such articles about them. The fact that the newspaper publishing these articles was one in the rival community of Nevada just made matters worse. (Lynn, 188)
His desire, was not that of the \”humorist,\” it was that of the satirist; but whether in Nevada or in California, he was prohibited, on pain of social rejection, from expressing himself directly regarding the life around him. Satire, in short, had become for him almost impossible as committing a crime; as a result, he was content to remain a humorist. (Lynn, 191)
In 1864, Mark Twain met two writers who encouraged Twain to continue his work: Artemus Ward and Bret Harte. These two authors were a big influence on Twain, and hints of Artemus Ward\’s writing style can be found in Twain\’s work. One of the more noticeable incidents of this is in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where it ends: \”Yours truly, Huck Finn\” as opposed to one of Ward\’s more famous closings: \”Yours trooly, A. Ward.\”
Twain\’s first major success came in 1865, when he rewrote a story that he\’d heard in the California gold fields. Within months The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Caleveras County had become popular nationwide. (Lynn, 193)
His career started to take off. In 1869 he wrote The Innocents Abroad about his travels to Europe detailing aspects of Old World culture, and criticizing tourists who learned what they should see and feel by reading guidebooks. He was married in 1870, and in 1872, he wrote Roughing It, a story about his life as a miner and a journalist. It was four years later that he wrote one of his more famous works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (Lynn, 195)
As Twain himself once put it: The very things [humor] preaches about, and which are novelties when it preaches about them, can cease to be novelties and become commonplaces in thirty years. Then that sermon can thenceforth interest no one. I have always preached. That is the reason I have lasted thirty years. If the humor came on its own accord and uninvited, I have allowed it a place in my sermon, but I was not writing the sermon for the sake of the humor. I should have written the sermon just the same, whether any humor applied for admission or not. (Nash, 167)
This statement emphasizes Twain\’s purpose was not to write as a humorist, but rather to teach his readers a lesson, to preach to them. He allowed the humor a place in his sermon because he felt it contributed to it, and his mind worked in such a way that he could conceal his sermon with the humor.
As he grew older and wiser, it was this trait that was sharpened and strengthened. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the forerunner of his true masterpiece, it was getting the audience ready for what was to come. Each important section of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is like a tract from a sermon. Through the mask of a child and disguised in his language Twain preaches his sermon. What makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so intriguing is how well Mark Twain accomplished the disguise that makes him stand out from other authors, and makes Twain himself an all-time classic. (Sloane, 198)
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Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain, a collection of critical essays. Philadelphia. 1978.
Sloane, David E. Mark Twain as a Literary Comedian. LSU. 1979.