As one of America’s first and foremost realists and humorists, Mark Twain, usually wrote about his own personal experiences and things he knew about from firsthand experience. # Two of his best-known novels show this trait, in his Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain immortalized the sleepy little town of Hannibal, Missouri (the fictional St. Petersburg), as well as the steamboats which passed through it daily, in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The various characters are based on types which Twain encountered both in his hometown and while working as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River, and even though A Connecticut Yankee is not based on personal experience Twain uses many of the same techniques that he used in his Prince and the Pauper. In that novel, for example, two young boys gradually lose their innocence; in A Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan wakes up in a land of innocence-Camelot. It was the Mississippi River and the values of the people who lived along its length that made Twain one of America’s best and favorite storytellers.
The humor which he found there, along with its way of life, has continued to fascinate readers and to embody an almost mythic sense of what it meant to be a young American in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Samuel Clemens was considered the father of modern American literature. He was an author, humorist, and lecturer. His insight into human nature, his humor, and his use of everyday American language have made his novels and stories among the best in American literature. Samuel L. Clemens was born on Nov. 30, 1835 in Florida Mo. village on the Mississippi River. Much of what happened there was to go into the books he was going to write. The Mississippi was a lifelong fascination for him. Samuel later took the name Mark Twain as a reminder of life on the Mississippi. He would use this name as his pen name. In 1847 Clemens father died and he was apprenticed to two Hannibal printers and in 1851 he began setting type for and contributing sketches to his brother Orion’s Hannibal Journal. Later he worked as a printer in Keokuk, Iowa, New York City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and other cities.
Later Clemens was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River until the American Civil War brought an end to travel on the river. In 1861 Clemens served briefly as a volunteer soldier in the Confederated cavalry. Later that year he went with his brother to the newly created Nevada Territory, where he tried his hand at silver mining. In 1862 he became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, and in 1863 he began signing his articles with the name Mark Twain, a Mississippi River phrase meaning “two fathoms deep.
After moving to San Francisco, California, in 1864, Twain met American writers Artemus Ward and Bret Harte, who encouraged him in his work. In 1865 Twain wrote a tale he had heard in the California gold fields called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. ” Originally entitled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” the piece was published in New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. A funny, western story, it gave relief to readers who were weary of Civil War news. An article in the Alta Californian on January 10, 1866, reported how New Yorkers reacted to the story.
Mark Twains story in the Saturday Press on November 18, called “Jim Smiley”s Jumping Frog,” has set all New York in a roar, and he may be said to have made his mark. I have been asked fifty times about it and its author, and the papers are copying it far and near. It is voted the best thing of its day. ”# In 1867 Twain lectured in New York City, and in the same year Twain took a voyage to Europe and the Holy Land aboard the steamship Quaker City. His travel letters to the San Francisco Alta California and the New York Tribune were collected in a popular book,The Innocents Abroad (1869).
In the book, Twain made fun of the sights and manners of the countries he visited, and America tourist traveling abroad. Theodre Dreiser wrote, “For most certainly in addition to, and in spite of, his humorous bent, he was a realist at heart and a most extraordinary one. One need only thumb through the Innocents Abroad, to find page after page, character after character, scene after scene, drawn movingly as well as brilliantly enough and this, in spite of his Brobdignaggian humor, from the life about him. ”#
As you go through the pages of The Innocents Abroad you learn more of the world as the writer saw it, than if you had travel there yourself. In 1870 Clemens married Oliva Langdon. After living briefly in Buffalo, New York, the couple moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Twains best work was written there. Roughing It was written in 1872. It tells about his early adventures as a miner and journalist. While the new book did not do as well as Innocents, the critics agree it is a better book His writing was more fluid, more incisive.
Brander Matthews wrote, “Roughing It always seemed to me a. better book than the more widely circulated ravels. It is better because it is the result of a more intimate knowledge at the In Roughing It Twain was working with what he had lived through. Twain faced honestly the truth about the violence of the frontier. He made his book into more than just another account of Western travel. He showed how the traveler entering this strange region was made into a different person. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) represents Twains first major use of memories of his childhood.
Most of the Adventures in Tom Sawyer really happened. Some were experiences of his own, others those of his schoolmates. The St. Petersburg of the novel is the Hannibal of his youth. Tom’s house was the old Clemens home. The school, the church, the cemetery, the island, and the cave can be traced back to Hannibal. So can the leading characters. What they do and say is from memories of years gone by. “There is no real plot to the book. It is Mark Twain looking back on his own boyhood.
His book is a nostalgic view of life in a town he idealized, and of course like many writers, he borrowed ideas from other books and transplanted them into his own. But regardless of where his materials came from, they were transformed by Marks ersonality and artistic skill. “ 5 In 1880 he wrote A Tramp Abroad which describes a walking trip through the Black Forest of Germany and the Swiss Alps. The book he patched together from the experiences he had on this trip, bored him. It is one of his poorer works, though it did bring in useful money that he needed.
The Prince and the Pauper (1882) was set in England in the 1500’s describes the exchange of identities between the young Prince Edward and a poor boy named Tom Canty. This book pleased a refined circle of New England readers, but disappointed those who liked the rugged energy of Twains previous works. Life on the Mississippi (1883) describes the history , sights , people and legends of the steamboat and towns of the Mississippi River region . It combines an autobiographical account of his experiences as a river pilot with a visit to the Mississippi nearly two decades after he left it. Mark Twain could securely rest his right to survive as an author on those opening chapters in “Life on the Mississippi” in which he makes clear the difficulties, the seeming impossibilities, that fronted those who wish to learn the river. These chapters are bold and brilliant; and they picture for us forever a period and a set of conditions, singularly interesting and splendidly varied, that otherwise would have had to forego all adequate record. ” 6 This work is the story of Mark Twain’s journey down the Mississippi River during the early 1880’s. It is somewhat of an autobiographical travelogue.
It tells us a great deal about Mark Twain and his background and attitudes. In addition, it tells us a great deal about the Mississippi River Valley. It is a narrative in which are mixed a great many personal recollections and anecdotes that tell us something about Mark Twain and the Mississippi. Twain’s eye for detail, and his basic sympathy with the river’s ways and its people show up in this work. The work is full of concrete detail and specific information about the river’s changes and the character of the towns and villages that interrupt its shores.
Other sides of Mark Twain’s talent are discovered to us. His tendency to write social criticism, often colored by his rationalistic bend and his prejudices is given a place to develop here. For example, the venomous references to Sir Walter Scott and other romantic novelists are made wherever some seamy side of Southern life is exposed. Mark Twain has no sympathy for the sentimentalized, phony medieval architecture of Southern cities, or for the senseless admiration of people who are born into the upper crust.
His respect for individual initiative and for democracy is too great for that. He doesn’t respect the “old days” or the “old ways” simply because they are “old. ” They must prove that they are better than the new ways before they gain his acceptance. The trouble with this attitude is that one is often going off after half-baked ideas and fads. Twain himself lost a lot of money this way. ) The second half of the book, is the important part so far as our interest in Mark Twain’s attitudes is concerned.
For it is this part that Twain studies and reflects on the changes that time and the war have made in the South. He tells us about the good things that are happening-there are schemes to acclimate the Negro to responsible freedom, to raise the standard of living through industrialization, and to harness the mighty river’s power. Twain also tells us what he thinks caused the War, the poor state of the Southern economy, and the social injustices and stupidities he finds in Southern life. The adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered Twain’s masterpiece.
Ernest Hemingway claimed that all modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn and his own prose, which also seeks to convert the truth of actual experience into style suited to the American ethos, owes a debt Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the United States in 1885. For a time, newspapers remained silent about the novel. They broke their silence after it was banned by a library committee in Concord, Massachusetts. Twain didn’t mind the set back, but he did mind the critical remarks thrown at the novel.
Critics, including the author Louisa May Alcott as well as local newspapers writers, stoned the book with harsh words. “If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure mined lads and lasses, he had best stop writing books for them. ” Critics fought to keep the novel away from young readers, fearing that they, like Huck, might learn to steal, lie, use poor grammar, and run away. But others applauded the novel, pointing out that it painted a real picture of riverside life in the pre Civil War Era. It would take generations before we Americans generally discover how great a book “Huckleberry Finn” really is, how keen its vision of character, how close its observation of life, how sound its philosophy, and how it records for us once and for all certain phases of southwestern society which it is most important for us to perceive and to understand.
“Huckleberry Finn”, it has the full favor of the Mississippi River, on which its author spent his own boyhood, and from contact ith the soil of which he has always risen reinvigorated. Twains skill in capturing the rhythms of that life help make the book one of the masterpieces of American literature. Huckleberry Finn, one of the central works of American literature and a worldwide best seller, traces the moral education of a young boy whose better impulses overcome both self-interest and the negative forces of his culture. Huck, a homeless boy whose only relative is his disreputable father, is taken in by a respectable widow who seeks to educate him. She forces him to go to school, but Huck dislikes being so cramped up and sivilized as they call it.
His father abducts him, and Huck prefers the freedom of his father’s shack to the constraint of more genteel surroundings. Freed from civilizing influences and placed in the company of his father, a vicious racist who boasts of his own illiteracy, Huck seems like a poor candidate for moral growth. But when Pap Finn nearly kills the boy during an alcoholic delirium, Huck escapes and meets the runaway slave Jim, who provides him the opportunity to make a significant moral choice.
Huck has been shaped not only by his ather’s view that one should act out of self-interest, but also by his society’s belief that God’s law mandates slavery. As he protects Jim, Huck feels certain that he will go to hell. Nonetheless, he transcends his upbringing and learns to value essential human bonds of trust beyond his own interest. Throughout the novel the boy witnesses a variety of human corruption, pretension, and violence, but maintains his integrity through his ability to identify with others. Huckleberry Finn delivers its powerful message through Huck’s narration. His rich language and humor remain fresh.
Huck’s journey down the river has become part of American mythology, and the issues of freedom and responsibility he confronts still concern American culture. In 1884 Twain formed the firm Charles L. Webster and Company to publish his and other writer’s works, Personnel Memoirs (Two volumes, 1885-1886 by American general and president Ulyssess S. Grant. A disastrous investment in an automatic type setting machine led to the firm’s bankruptcy in 1894. A successful world wide tour and the book based on those travels, Following the Equator (1897) paid off Twains debts. W. D. Howells (essay date 1901) writes-
So far as I know Mr. Clemens is the first writer to use in extended writing the fashion we use in thinking, and to set down the thing that comes into his mind without fear or favor of the thing that went before or the thing that maybe about to follow. He has not gone through the six hundred pages of Following the Equator, without having learned more of the world as the writer saw it than any but the rarest traveler is able to show for his travel. ”9 Twain’s work during the 1890’s and 1900’s is marked by growing pessimism and bitterness, the result of his bad business venture and later the deaths of his wife and two daughters.
The works for that period are Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) a novel set in the South before the Civil War that criticizes racism by focusing on mistaken identities . Pudd’nhead is about slavery, and the complex morality of its society. The Dawson’s Landing of this story, like St. Petersburg and Obedstown, is the Hannibal of Twain’s childhood. Again he uses the device of switched identities, the white boy raised as a slave, and the slave raised as a white. In the slave Roxana, one-sixteenth colored, he created a Negro character with far more human reality than any writer had done before him.
Personnel Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896) is a sentimental biography. Twains other later writing include short stories, the best known of which are “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”(1899). It is a story exhibiting the effects of greed in a smug provincial town. The Mysterious Stranger, was published in 1916, after Twains death. The story, which exists in three versions, describes a visit by Satan to an Austrian village during the Middle Ages. This book of ultimate, scandalous truth, like Huck Finn, is for youthful readers.
It is also the auquished cry from the heart of a man exiled from what he holds most dearly, the image he had of his boyhood. The Mysterious Stranger is a boy’s revenge on a world that has failed to live up to his expectations. Twain hoped to write a book that would horrify his own adult reading public, but the book is about an imaginary Kingdom where boys could live, roam and never grow up. Bernard DeVoto (essay date 1946) wrote, “It is an almost perfect book-perfect in expression of his final drive, in imaginative projection of himself, in tone and tune, in final judgment on the nature of man and the experience of Mark Twain.
It is not, finally a major work; but in its small way it is a masterpiece. Those who know and love Mark Twain will find it as revealing as Huckleberry Finn. ”10 Since the 1960’s some people have come to view Mark Twain’s life and outlook as gloomy and even tragic. His later more bitter works, such as the Mysterious Stranger, were neglected in the years following his death, but they have recently received more attention, resulting in a broader understanding of Twain’s personality and works.
Scholars recognize in Twain a man divided in outlook between comic and tragic perceptions of existence. Throughout his career Twain looked back to his happy youthful days on the Mississippi, finding in his memories spiritual rejuvenation and inspiration. At the same time he was gloomy about the future. His longing for an idealized past as a haven from an increasingly hostile present is evident in most of his major works of fiction. Critics have tried to explain this division in outlook, and two major theories have risen from this debate.
The first, expounded by Van Wyck Brooks in The Ordeal of Mark Twain, sees in Twain a genius beset from childhood with deep guilt complex stifled by America’s crude frontier atmosphere, his writing edited into prettified respectability through the efforts of his wife and his friend William Dean Howells. The influence of Olivia Clemens and Howells has been greatly discounted by Bernard De Voto, whose Mark Twain’s America and Mark Twain at Work demonstrate the positive effects of frontier life on Twain’s development and attribute, his pessimism to the many personal tragedies he suffered during the last years of his life.
As De Voto and other critics have said, “Twain can be found on both sides of every issue: immortality, war and the social problems of the South, to name but three. His importance to world literature lies not in the power of his ideas, but in the universality of his character’s delemmas and his accessibility to readers of all ages. 11 In Twains later years he wrote less, but he became a celebrity, speaking out often on public issues. He also came to be known for the white linen suit he always wore when making public appearances. Twain received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1907.
When he died he left an uncompleted autobiography, which was eventually edited by his secretary, Albert Bigelow Paine, and published in 1924. In 1990 the first half of a hand written manuscript of Huckleberry Finn was discovered in Hollywood California. After a series of legal battles over ownership , the portion, which included previously unpublished material was reunited with its second half, which had been housed at the Buffalo and Erie County (New York) Public Libraries, in 1992. A revised edition of Huckleberry Finn including the unpublished material was released in 1996.
Mark Twain’s realistic writing style has influenced many American writers. Ernest Hemingway stated that all modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn. We all have a little of Mark Twain in us, as we like to tell about our own personal experiences and tell how things were when we were young, we like to reflect back on our happy childhood and fond memories of time gone by. We like to reminisce of our past life, Mark Twain wrote about his own personal experiences and things he knew about from firsthand experience.