History of Literature










Mark Twain


"The Prince and the Pauper"


Chapter I-IV, Chapter V-VII, Chapter VIII-XI,
Chapter XII-XIV, Chapter XV-XVII, Chapter XVIII-XXI,
Chapter XXII-XXVI, Chapter XXVII-XXXI, Chapter XXXII-XXXIII




 


Mark Twain



 

 

Mark Twain

American writer
pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens

born Nov. 30, 1835, Florida, Mo., U.S.
died April 21, 1910, Redding, Conn.

Main
American humorist, journalist, lecturer, and novelist who acquired international fame for his travel narratives, especially The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), and Life on the Mississippi (1883), and for his adventure stories of boyhood, especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). A gifted raconteur, distinctive humorist, and irascible moralist, he transcended the apparent limitations of his origins to become a popular public figure and one of America’s best and most beloved writers.

Youth
Samuel Clemens, the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Moffit Clemens, was born two months prematurely and was in relatively poor health for the first 10 years of his life. His mother tried various allopathic and hydropathic remedies on him during those early years, and his recollections of those instances (along with other memories of his growing up) would eventually find their way into Tom Sawyer and other writings. Because he was sickly, Clemens was often coddled, particularly by his mother, and he developed early the tendency to test her indulgence through mischief, offering only his good nature as bond for the domestic crimes he was apt to commit. When Jane Clemens was in her 80s, Clemens asked her about his poor health in those early years: “I suppose that during that whole time you were uneasy about me?” “Yes, the whole time,” she answered. “Afraid I wouldn’t live?” “No,” she said, “afraid you would.”

Insofar as Clemens could be said to have inherited his sense of humour, it would have come from his mother, not his father. John Clemens, by all reports, was a serious man who seldom demonstrated affection. No doubt his temperament was affected by his worries over his financial situation, made all the more distressing by a series of business failures. It was the diminishing fortunes of the Clemens family that led them in 1839 to move 30 miles (50 km) east from Florida, Mo., to the Mississippi River port town of Hannibal, where there were greater opportunities. John Clemens opened a store and eventually became a justice of the peace, which entitled him to be called “Judge” but not to a great deal more. In the meantime, the debts accumulated. Still, John Clemens believed the Tennessee land he had purchased in the late 1820s (some 70,000 acres [28,000 hectares]) might one day make them wealthy, and this prospect cultivated in the children a dreamy hope. Late in his life, Twain reflected on this promise that became a curse:

It put our energies to sleep and made visionaries of us—dreamers and indolent.…It is good to begin life poor; it is good to begin life rich—these are wholesome; but to begin it prospectively rich! The man who has not experienced it cannot imagine the curse of it.

Judging from his own speculative ventures in silver mining, business, and publishing, it was a curse that Sam Clemens never quite outgrew.

Perhaps it was the romantic visionary in him that caused Clemens to recall his youth in Hannibal with such fondness. As he remembered it in Old Times on the Mississippi (1875), the village was a “white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer’s morning,” until the arrival of a riverboat suddenly made it a hive of activity. The gamblers, stevedores, and pilots, the boisterous raftsmen and elegant travelers, all bound for somewhere surely glamorous and exciting, would have impressed a young boy and stimulated his already active imagination. And the lives he might imagine for these living people could easily be embroidered by the romantic exploits he read in the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Sir Walter Scott, and others. Those same adventures could be reenacted with his companions as well, and Clemens and his friends did play at being pirates, Robin Hood, and other fabled adventurers. Among those companions was Tom Blankenship, an affable but impoverished boy whom Twain later identified as the model for the character Huckleberry Finn. There were local diversions as well—fishing, picnicking, and swimming. A boy might swim or canoe to and explore Glasscock’s Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River, or he might visit the labyrinthine McDowell’s Cave, about 2 miles (3 km) south of town. The first site evidently became Jackson’s Island in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; the second became McDougal’s Cave in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the summers, Clemens visited his uncle John Quarles’s farm, near Florida, Mo., where he played with his cousins and listened to stories told by the slave Uncle Daniel, who served, in part, as a model for Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

It is not surprising that the pleasant events of youth, filtered through the softening lens of memory, might outweigh disturbing realities. However, in many ways the childhood of Samuel Clemens was a rough one. Death from disease during this time was common. His sister Margaret died of a fever when Clemens was not yet four years old; three years later his brother Benjamin died. When he was eight, a measles epidemic (potentially lethal in those days) was so frightening to him that he deliberately exposed himself to infection by climbing into bed with his friend Will Bowen in order to relieve the anxiety. A cholera epidemic a few years later killed at least 24 people, a substantial number for a small town. In 1847 Clemens’s father died of pneumonia. John Clemens’s death contributed further to the family’s financial instability. Even before that year, however, continuing debts had forced them to auction off property, to sell their only slave, Jennie, to take in boarders, even to sell their furniture.

Apart from family worries, the social environment was hardly idyllic. Missouri was a slave state, and, though the young Clemens had been reassured that chattel slavery was an institution approved by God, he nevertheless carried with him memories of cruelty and sadness that he would reflect upon in his maturity. Then there was the violence of Hannibal itself. One evening in 1844 Clemens discovered a corpse in his father’s office; it was the body of a California emigrant who had been stabbed in a quarrel and was placed there for the inquest. In January 1845 Clemens watched a man die in the street after he had been shot by a local merchant; this incident provided the basis for the Boggs shooting in Huckleberry Finn. Two years later he witnessed the drowning of one of his friends, and only a few days later, when he and some friends were fishing on Sny Island, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, they discovered the drowned and mutilated body of a fugitive slave. As it turned out, Tom Blankenship’s older brother Bence had been secretly taking food to the runaway slave for some weeks before the slave was apparently discovered and killed. Bence’s act of courage and kindness served in some measure as a model for Huck’s decision to help the fugitive Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

After the death of his father, Sam Clemens worked at several odd jobs in town, and in 1848 he became a printer’s apprentice for Joseph P. Ament’s Missouri Courier. He lived sparingly in the Ament household but was allowed to continue his schooling and, from time to time, indulge in boyish amusements. Nevertheless, by the time Clemens was 13, his boyhood had effectively come to an end.


Apprenticeships
In 1850 the oldest Clemens boy, Orion, returned from St. Louis, Mo., and began to publish a weekly newspaper. A year later he bought the Hannibal Journal, and Sam and his younger brother Henry worked for him. Sam became more than competent as a typesetter, but he also occasionally contributed sketches and articles to his brother’s paper. Some of those early sketches, such as The Dandy Frightening the Squatter (1852), appeared in Eastern newspapers and periodicals. In 1852, acting as the substitute editor while Orion was out of town, Clemens signed a sketch “W. Epaminondas Adrastus Perkins.” This was his first known use of a pseudonym, and there would be several more (Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Quintius Curtius Snodgrass, Josh, and others) before he adopted, permanently, the pen name Mark Twain.

Having acquired a trade by age 17, Clemens left Hannibal in 1853 with some degree of self-sufficiency. For almost two decades he would be an itinerant labourer, trying many occupations. It was not until he was 37, he once remarked, that he woke up to discover he had become a “literary person.” In the meantime, he was intent on seeing the world and exploring his own possibilities. He worked briefly as a typesetter in St. Louis in 1853 before traveling to New York City to work at a large printing shop. From there he went to Philadelphia and on to Washington, D.C.; then he returned to New York, only to find work hard to come by because of fires that destroyed two publishing houses. During his time in the East, which lasted until early 1854, he read widely and took in the sights of these cities. He was acquiring, if not a worldly air, at least a broader perspective than that offered by his rural background. And Clemens continued to write, though without firm literary ambitions, occasionally publishing letters in his brother’s new newspaper. Orion had moved briefly to Muscatine, Iowa, with their mother, where he had established the Muscatine Journal before relocating to Keokuk, Iowa, and opening a printing shop there. Sam Clemens joined his brother in Keokuk in 1855 and was a partner in the business for a little over a year, but he then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work as a typesetter. Still restless and ambitious, he booked passage in 1857 on a steamboat bound for New Orleans, La., planning to find his fortune in South America. Instead, he saw a more immediate opportunity and persuaded the accomplished riverboat captain Horace Bixby to take him on as an apprentice.

Having agreed to pay a $500 apprentice fee, Clemens studied the Mississippi River and the operation of a riverboat under the masterful instruction of Bixby, with an eye toward obtaining a pilot’s license. (Clemens paid Bixby $100 down and promised to pay the remainder of the substantial fee in installments, something he evidently never managed to do.) Bixby did indeed “learn”—a word Twain insisted on—him the river, but the young man was an apt pupil as well. Because Bixby was an exceptional pilot and had a license to navigate the Missouri River and the upper as well as the lower Mississippi, lucrative opportunities several times took him upstream. On those occasions, Clemens was transferred to other veteran pilots and thereby learned the profession more quickly and thoroughly than he might have otherwise. The profession of riverboat pilot was, as he confessed many years later in Old Times on the Mississippi, the most congenial one he had ever followed. Not only did a pilot receive good wages and enjoy universal respect, but he was absolutely free and self-sufficient: “a pilot, in those days, was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth,” he wrote. Clemens enjoyed the rank and dignity that came with the position; he belonged, both informally and officially, to a group of men whose acceptance he cherished; and—by virtue of his membership in the Western Boatman’s Benevolent Association, obtained soon after he earned his pilot’s license in 1859—he participated in a true “meritocracy” of the sort he admired and would dramatize many years later in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Clemens’s years on the river were eventful in other ways. He met and fell in love with Laura Wright, eight years his junior. The courtship dissolved in a misunderstanding, but she remained the remembered sweetheart of his youth. He also arranged a job for his younger brother Henry on the riverboat Pennsylvania. The boilers exploded, however, and Henry was fatally injured. Clemens was not on board when the accident occurred, but he blamed himself for the tragedy. His experience as a cub and then as a full-fledged pilot gave him a sense of discipline and direction he might never have acquired elsewhere. Before this period his had been a directionless knockabout life; afterward he had a sense of determined possibility. He continued to write occasional pieces throughout these years and, in one satirical sketch, River Intelligence (1859), lampooned the self-important senior pilot Isaiah Sellers, whose observations of the Mississippi were published in a New Orleans newspaper. Clemens and the other “starchy boys,” as he once described his fellow riverboat pilots in a letter to his wife, had no particular use for this nonunion man, but Clemens did envy what he later recalled to be Sellers’s delicious pen name, Mark Twain.

The Civil War severely curtailed river traffic, and, fearing that he might be impressed as a Union gunboat pilot, Clemens brought his years on the river to a halt a mere two years after he had acquired his license. He returned to Hannibal, where he joined the prosecessionist Marion Rangers, a ragtag lot of about a dozen men. After only two uneventful weeks, during which the soldiers mostly retreated from Union troops rumoured to be in the vicinity, the group disbanded. A few of the men joined other Confederate units, and the rest, along with Clemens, scattered. Twain would recall this experience, a bit fuzzily and with some fictional embellishments, in The Private History of the Campaign That Failed (1885). In that memoir he extenuated his history as a deserter on the grounds that he was not made for soldiering. Like the fictional Huckleberry Finn, whose narrative he was to publish in 1885, Clemens then lit out for the territory. Huck Finn intends to escape to the Indian country, probably Oklahoma; Clemens accompanied his brother Orion to the Nevada Territory.

Clemens’s own political sympathies during the war are obscure. It is known at any rate that Orion Clemens was deeply involved in Republican Party politics and in Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for the U.S. presidency, and it was as a reward for those efforts that he was appointed territorial secretary of Nevada. Upon their arrival in Carson City, the territorial capital, Sam Clemens’s association with Orion did not provide him the sort of livelihood he might have supposed, and, once again, he had to shift for himself—mining and investing in timber and silver and gold stocks, oftentimes “prospectively rich,” but that was all. Clemens submitted several letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and these attracted the attention of the editor, Joseph Goodman, who offered him a salaried job as a reporter. He was again embarked on an apprenticeship, in the hearty company of a group of writers sometimes called the Sagebrush Bohemians, and again he succeeded.

The Nevada Territory was a rambunctious and violent place during the boom years of the Comstock Lode, from its discovery in 1859 to its peak production in the late 1870s. Nearby Virginia City was known for its gambling and dance halls, its breweries and whiskey mills, its murders, riots, and political corruption. Years later Twain recalled the town in a public lecture: “It was no place for a Presbyterian,” he said. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he added, “And I did not remain one very long.” Nevertheless, he seems to have retained something of his moral integrity. He was often indignant and prone to expose fraud and corruption when he found them. This was a dangerous indulgence, for violent retribution was not uncommon.

In February 1863 Clemens covered the legislative session in Carson City and wrote three letters for the Enterprise. He signed them “Mark Twain.” Apparently the mistranscription of a telegram misled Clemens to believe that the pilot Isaiah Sellers had died and that his cognomen was up for grabs. Clemens seized it. (See Researcher’s Note: Origins of the name Mark Twain.) It would be several years before this pen name would acquire the firmness of a full-fledged literary persona, however. In the meantime, he was discovering by degrees what it meant to be a “literary person.”

Already he was acquiring a reputation outside the territory. Some of his articles and sketches had appeared in New York papers, and he became the Nevada correspondent for the San Francisco Morning Call. In 1864, after challenging the editor of a rival newspaper to a duel and then fearing the legal consequences for this indiscretion, he left Virginia City for San Francisco and became a full-time reporter for the Call. Finding that work tiresome, he began contributing to the Golden Era and the new literary magazine the Californian, edited by Bret Harte. After he published an article expressing his fiery indignation at police corruption in San Francisco, and after a man with whom he associated was arrested in a brawl, Clemens decided it prudent to leave the city for a time. He went to the Tuolumne foothills to do some mining. It was there that he heard the story of a jumping frog. The story was widely known, but it was new to Clemens, and he took notes for a literary representation of the tale. When the humorist Artemus Ward invited him to contribute something for a book of humorous sketches, Clemens decided to write up the story. Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog arrived too late to be included in the volume, but it was published in the New York Saturday Press in November 1865 and was subsequently reprinted throughout the country. “Mark Twain” had acquired sudden celebrity, and Sam Clemens was following in his wake.


Literary maturity
The next few years were important for Clemens. After he had finished writing the jumping-frog story but before it was published, he declared in a letter to Orion that he had a “ ‘call’ to literature of a low order—i.e. humorous. It is nothing to be proud of,” he continued, “but it is my strongest suit.” However much he might deprecate his calling, it appears that he was committed to making a professional career for himself. He continued to write for newspapers, traveling to Hawaii for the Sacramento Union and also writing for New York newspapers, but he apparently wanted to become something more than a journalist. He went on his first lecture tour, speaking mostly on the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1866. It was a success, and for the rest of his life, though he found touring grueling, he knew he could take to the lecture platform when he needed money. Meanwhile, he tried, unsuccessfully, to publish a book made up of his letters from Hawaii. His first book was in fact The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867), but it did not sell well. That same year, he moved to New York City, serving as the traveling correspondent for the San Francisco Alta California and for New York newspapers. He had ambitions to enlarge his reputation and his audience, and the announcement of a transatlantic excursion to Europe and the Holy Land provided him with just such an opportunity. The Alta paid the substantial fare in exchange for some 50 letters he would write concerning the trip. Eventually his account of the voyage was published as The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was a great success.

The trip abroad was fortuitous in another way. He met on the boat a young man named Charlie Langdon, who invited Clemens to dine with his family in New York and introduced him to his sister Olivia; the writer fell in love with her. Clemens’s courtship of Olivia Langdon, the daughter of a prosperous businessman from Elmira, N.Y., was an ardent one, conducted mostly through correspondence. They were married in February 1870. With financial assistance from Olivia’s father, Clemens bought a one-third interest in the Express of Buffalo, N.Y., and began writing a column for a New York City magazine, the Galaxy. A son, Langdon, was born in November 1870, but the boy was frail and would die of diphtheria less than two years later. Clemens came to dislike Buffalo and hoped that he and his family might move to the Nook Farm area of Hartford, Conn. In the meantime, he worked hard on a book about his experiences in the West. Roughing It was published in February 1872 and sold well. The next month, Olivia Susan (Susy) Clemens was born in Elmira. Later that year, Clemens traveled to England. Upon his return, he began work with his friend Charles Dudley Warner on a satirical novel about political and financial corruption in the United States. The Gilded Age (1873) was remarkably well received, and a play based on the most amusing character from the novel, Colonel Sellers, also became quite popular.

The Gilded Age was Twain’s first attempt at a novel, and the experience was apparently congenial enough for him to begin writing Tom Sawyer, along with his reminiscences about his days as a riverboat pilot. He also published A True Story, a moving dialect sketch told by a former slave, in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly in 1874. A second daughter, Clara, was born in June, and the Clemenses moved into their still-unfinished house in Nook Farm later the same year, counting among their neighbours Warner and the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. Old Times on the Mississippi appeared in the Atlantic in installments in 1875. The obscure journalist from the wilds of California and Nevada had arrived: he had settled down in a comfortable house with his family; he was known worldwide; his books sold well, and he was a popular favourite on the lecture tour; and his fortunes had steadily improved over the years. In the process, the journalistic and satirical temperament of the writer had, at times, become retrospective. Old Times, which would later become a portion of Life on the Mississippi, described comically, but a bit ruefully too, a way of life that would never return. The highly episodic narrative of Tom Sawyer, which recounts the mischievous adventures of a boy growing up along the Mississippi River, was coloured by a nostalgia for childhood and simplicity that would permit Twain to characterize the novel as a “hymn” to childhood. The continuing popularity of Tom Sawyer (it sold well from its first publication, in 1876, and has never gone out of print) indicates that Twain could write a novel that appealed to young and old readers alike. The antics and high adventure of Tom Sawyer and his comrades—including pranks in church and at school, the comic courtship of Becky Thatcher, a murder mystery, and a thrilling escape from a cave—continue to delight children, while the book’s comedy, narrated by someone who vividly recalls what it was to be a child, amuses adults with similar memories.

In the summer of 1876, while staying with his in-laws Susan and Theodore Crane on Quarry Farm overlooking Elmira, Clemens began writing what he called in a letter to his friend William Dean Howells “Huck Finn’s Autobiography.” Huck had appeared as a character in Tom Sawyer, and Clemens decided that the untutored boy had his own story to tell. He soon discovered that it had to be told in Huck’s own vernacular voice. Huckleberry Finn was written in fits and starts over an extended period and would not be published until 1885. During that interval, Twain often turned his attention to other projects, only to return again and again to the novel’s manuscript.

Twain believed he had humiliated himself before Boston’s literary worthies when he delivered one of many speeches at a dinner commemorating the 70th birthday of poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Twain’s contribution to the occasion fell flat (perhaps because of a failure of delivery or the contents of the speech itself), and some believed he had insulted three literary icons in particular: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The embarrassing experience may have in part prompted his removal to Europe for nearly two years. He published A Tramp Abroad (1880), about his travels with his friend Joseph Twichell in the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps, and The Prince and the Pauper (1881), a fanciful tale set in 16th-century England and written for “young people of all ages.” In 1882 he traveled up the Mississippi with Horace Bixby, taking notes for the book that became Life on the Mississippi (1883). All the while, he continued to make often ill-advised investments, the most disastrous of which was the continued financial support of an inventor, James W. Paige, who was perfecting an automatic typesetting machine. In 1884 Clemens founded his own publishing company, bearing the name of his nephew and business agent, Charles L. Webster, and embarked on a four-month lecture tour with fellow author George W. Cable, both to raise money for the company and to promote the sales of Huckleberry Finn. Not long after that, Clemens began the first of several Tom-and-Huck sequels. None of them would rival Huckleberry Finn. All the Tom-and-Huck narratives engage in broad comedy and pointed satire, and they show that Twain had not lost his ability to speak in Huck’s voice. What distinguishes Huckleberry Finn from the others is the moral dilemma Huck faces in aiding the runaway slave Jim while at the same time escaping from the unwanted influences of so-called civilization. Through Huck, the novel’s narrator, Twain was able to address the shameful legacy of chattel slavery prior to the Civil War and the persistent racial discrimination and violence after. That he did so in the voice and consciousness of a 14-year-old boy, a character who shows the signs of having been trained to accept the cruel and indifferent attitudes of a slaveholding culture, gives the novel its affecting power, which can elicit genuine sympathies in readers but can also generate controversy and debate and can affront those who find the book patronizing toward African Americans, if not perhaps much worse. If Huckleberry Finn is a great book of American literature, its greatness may lie in its continuing ability to touch a nerve in the American national consciousness that is still raw and troubling.

For a time, Clemens’s prospects seemed rosy. After working closely with Ulysses S. Grant, he watched as his company’s publication of the former U.S. president’s memoirs in 1885–86 became an overwhelming success. (For an explanation of why Grant’s memoirs were so successful, see Sidebar: Translating Thought into Action: Grant’s Personal Memoirs.) Clemens believed a forthcoming biography of Pope Leo XIII would do even better. The prototype for the Paige typesetter also seemed to be working splendidly. It was in a generally sanguine mood that he began to write A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, about the exploits of a practical and democratic factory superintendent who is magically transported to Camelot and attempts to transform the kingdom according to 19th-century republican values and modern technology. So confident was he about prospects for the typesetter that Clemens predicted this novel would be his “swan-song” to literature and that he would live comfortably off the profits of his investment.

Things did not go according to plan, however. His publishing company was floundering, and cash flow problems meant he was drawing on his royalties to provide capital for the business. Clemens was suffering from rheumatism in his right arm, but he continued to write for magazines out of necessity. Still, he was getting deeper and deeper in debt, and by 1891 he had ceased his monthly payments to support work on the Paige typesetter, effectively giving up on an investment that over the years had cost him some $200,000 or more. He closed his beloved house in Hartford, and the family moved to Europe, where they might live more cheaply and, perhaps, where his wife, who had always been frail, might improve her health. Debts continued to mount, and the financial panic of 1893 made it difficult to borrow money. Luckily, he was befriended by a Standard Oil executive, Henry Huttleston Rogers, who undertook to put Clemens’s financial house in order. Clemens assigned his property, including his copyrights, to Olivia, announced the failure of his publishing house, and declared personal bankruptcy. In 1894, approaching his 60th year, Samuel Clemens was forced to repair his fortunes and to remake his career.


Old age
Late in 1894 The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins was published. Set in the antebellum South, Pudd’nhead Wilson concerns the fates of transposed babies, one white and the other black, and is a fascinating, if ambiguous, exploration of the social and legal construction of race. It also reflects Twain’s thoughts on determinism, a subject that would increasingly occupy his thoughts for the remainder of his life. One of the maxims from that novel jocularly expresses his point of view: “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Clearly, despite his reversal of fortunes, Twain had not lost his sense of humour. But he was frustrated too—frustrated by financial difficulties but also by the public’s perception of him as a funnyman and nothing more. The persona of Mark Twain had become something of a curse for Samuel Clemens.

Clemens published his next novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (serialized 1895–96), anonymously in hopes that the public might take it more seriously than a book bearing the Mark Twain name. The strategy did not work, for it soon became generally known that he was the author; when the novel was first published in book form, in 1896, his name appeared on the volume’s spine but not on its title page. However, in later years he would publish some works anonymously, and still others he declared could not be published until long after his death, on the largely erroneous assumption that his true views would scandalize the public. Clemens’s sense of wounded pride was necessarily compromised by his indebtedness, and he embarked on a lecture tour in July 1895 that would take him across North America to Vancouver, B.C., Can., and from there around the world. He gave lectures in Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and points in-between, arriving in England a little more than a year afterward. Clemens was in London when he was notified of the death of his daughter Susy, of spinal meningitis. A pall settled over the Clemens household; they would not celebrate birthdays or holidays for the next several years. As an antidote to his grief as much as anything else, Clemens threw himself into work. He wrote a great deal he did not intend to publish during those years, but he did publish Following the Equator (1897), a relatively serious account of his world lecture tour. By 1898 the revenue generated from the tour and the subsequent book, along with Henry Huttleston Rogers’s shrewd investments of his money, had allowed Clemens to pay his creditors in full. Rogers was shrewd as well in the way he publicized and redeemed the reputation of “Mark Twain” as a man of impeccable moral character. Palpable tokens of public approbation are the three honorary degrees conferred on Clemens in his last years—from Yale University in 1901, from the University of Missouri in 1902, and, the one he most coveted, from Oxford University in 1907. When he traveled to Missouri to receive his honorary Doctor of Laws, he visited old friends in Hannibal along the way. He knew that it would be his last visit to his hometown.

Clemens had acquired the esteem and moral authority he had yearned for only a few years before, and the writer made good use of his reinvigorated position. He began writing The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1899), a devastating satire of venality in small-town America, and the first of three manuscript versions of The Mysterious Stranger. (None of the manuscripts was ever completed, and they were posthumously combined and published in 1916.) He also started What Is Man? (published anonymously in 1906), a dialogue in which a wise “Old Man” converts a resistant “Young Man” to a brand of philosophical determinism. He began to dictate his autobiography, which he would continue to do until a few months before he died. Some of Twain’s best work during his late years was not fiction but polemical essays in which his earnestness was not in doubt: an essay against anti-Semitism, Concerning the Jews (1899); a denunciation of imperialism, To the Man Sitting in Darkness (1901); an essay on lynching, The United States of Lyncherdom (posthumously published in 1923); and a pamphlet on the brutal and exploitative Belgian rule in the Congo, King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905).

Clemens’s last years have been described as his “bad mood” period. The description may or may not be apt. It is true that in his polemical essays and in much of his fiction during this time he was venting powerful moral feelings and commenting freely on the “damn’d human race.” But he had always been against sham and corruption, greed, cruelty, and violence. Even in his California days, he was principally known as the “Moralist of the Main” and only incidentally as the “Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope.” It was not the indignation he was expressing during these last years that was new; what seemed to be new was the frequent absence of the palliative humour that had seasoned the earlier outbursts. At any rate, even though the worst of his financial worries were behind him, there was no particular reason for Clemens to be in a good mood.

The family, including Clemens himself, had suffered from one sort of ailment or another for a very long time. In 1896 his daughter Jean was diagnosed with epilepsy, and the search for a cure, or at least relief, had taken the family to different doctors throughout Europe. By 1901 his wife’s health was seriously deteriorating. She was violently ill in 1902, and for a time Clemens was allowed to see her for only five minutes a day. Removing to Italy seemed to improve her condition, but that was only temporary. She died on June 5, 1904. Something of his affection for her and his sense of personal loss after her death is conveyed in the moving piece Eve’s Diary (1906). The story chronicles in tenderly comic ways the loving relationship between Adam and Eve. After Eve dies, Adam comments at her grave site, “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.” Clemens had written a commemorative poem on the anniversary of Susy’s death, and Eve’s Diary serves the equivalent function for the death of his wife. He would have yet another occasion to publish his grief. His daughter Jean died on Dec. 24, 1909. The Death of Jean (1911) was written beside her deathbed. He was writing, he said, “to keep my heart from breaking.”

It is true that Clemens was bitter and lonely during his last years. He took some solace in the grandfatherly friendships he established with young schoolgirls he called his “angelfish.” His “Angelfish Club” consisted of 10 to 12 girls who were admitted to membership on the basis of their intelligence, sincerity, and good will, and he corresponded with them frequently. In 1906–07 he published selected chapters from his ongoing autobiography in the North American Review. Judging from the tone of the work, writing his autobiography often supplied Clemens with at least a wistful pleasure. These writings and others reveal an imaginative energy and humorous exuberance that do not fit the picture of a wholly bitter and cynical man. He moved into his new house in Redding, Conn., in June 1908, and that too was a comfort. He had wanted to call it “Innocents at Home,” but his daughter Clara convinced him to name it “Stormfield,” after a story he had written about a sea captain who sailed for heaven but arrived at the wrong port. Extracts from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven was published in installments in Harper’s Magazine in 1907–08. It is an uneven but delightfully humorous story, one that critic and journalist H.L. Mencken ranked on a level with Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi. Little Bessie and Letters from the Earth (both published posthumously) were also written during this period, and, while they are sardonic, they are antically comic as well. Clemens thought Letters from the Earth was so heretical that it could never be published. However, it was published in a book by that name, along with other previously unpublished writings, in 1962, and it reinvigorated public interest in Twain’s serious writings. The letters did present unorthodox views—that God was something of a bungling scientist and human beings his failed experiment, that Christ, not Satan, devised hell, and that God was ultimately to blame for human suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. Twain was speaking candidly in his last years but still with a vitality and ironic detachment that kept his work from being merely the fulminations of an old and angry man.

Clara Clemens married in October 1909 and left for Europe by early December. Jean died later that month. Clemens was too grief-stricken to attend the burial services, and he stopped working on his autobiography. Perhaps as an escape from painful memories, he traveled to Bermuda in January 1910. By early April he was having severe chest pains. His biographer Albert Bigelow Paine joined him, and together they returned to Stormfield. Clemens died on April 21. The last piece of writing he did, evidently, was the short humorous sketch Etiquette for the Afterlife: Advice to Paine (first published in full in 1995). Clearly, Clemens’s mind was on final things; just as clearly, he had not altogether lost his sense of humour. Among the pieces of advice he offered Paine, for when his turn to enter heaven arrived, was this: “Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in.” Clemens was buried in the family plot in Elmira, N.Y., alongside his wife, his son, and two of his daughters. Only Clara survived him.


Reputation and assessment
Shortly after Clemens’s death, Howells published My Mark Twain (1910), in which he pronounced Samuel Clemens “sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature.” Twenty-five years later Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Green Hills of Africa (1935), “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Both compliments are grandiose and a bit obscure. For Howells, Twain’s significance was apparently social—the humorist, Howells wrote, spoke to and for the common American man and woman; he emancipated and dignified the speech and manners of a class of people largely neglected by writers (except as objects of fun or disapproval) and largely ignored by genteel America. For Hemingway, Twain’s achievement was evidently an aesthetic one principally located in one novel. For later generations, however, the reputation of and controversy surrounding Huckleberry Finn largely eclipsed the vast body of Clemens’s substantial literary corpus: the novel has been dropped from some American schools’ curricula on the basis of its characterization of the slave Jim, which some regard as demeaning, and its repeated use of an offensive racial epithet.

As a humorist and as a moralist, Twain worked best in short pieces. Roughing It is a rollicking account of his adventures in the American West, but it is also seasoned with such exquisite yarns as Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral and The Story of the Old Ram; A Tramp Abroad is for many readers a disappointment, but it does contain the nearly perfect Jim Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn. In A True Story, told in an African American dialect, Twain transformed the resources of the typically American humorous story into something serious and profoundly moving. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is relentless social satire; it is also the most formally controlled piece Twain ever wrote. The originality of the longer works is often to be found more in their conception than in their sustained execution. The Innocents Abroad is perhaps the funniest of all of Twain’s books, but it also redefined the genre of the travel narrative by attempting to suggest to the reader, as Twain wrote, “how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes.” Similarly, in Tom Sawyer, he treated childhood not as the achievement of obedience to adult authority but as a period of mischief-making fun and good-natured affection. Like Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, which he much admired, Huckleberry Finn rang changes on the picaresque novel that are of permanent interest.

Twain was not the first Anglo-American to treat the problems of race and racism in all their complexity, but, along with that of Herman Melville, his treatment remains of vital interest more than a hundred years later. His ability to swiftly and convincingly create a variety of fictional characters rivals that of Charles Dickens. Twain’s scalawags, dreamers, stalwarts, and toughs, his solicitous aunts, ambitious politicians, carping widows, false aristocrats, canny but generous slaves, sententious moralists, brave but misguided children, and decent but complicitous bystanders, his loyal lovers and friends, and his fractious rivals—these and many more constitute a virtual census of American types. And his mastery of spoken language, of slang and argot and dialect, gave these figures a voice. Twain’s democratic sympathies and his steadfast refusal to condescend to the lowliest of his creations give the whole of his literary production a point of view that is far more expansive, interesting, and challenging than his somewhat crusty philosophical speculations. Howells, who had known most of the important American literary figures of the 19th century and thought them to be more or less like one another, believed that Twain was unique. Twain will always be remembered first and foremost as a humorist, but he was a great deal more—a public moralist, popular entertainer, political philosopher, travel writer, and novelist. Perhaps it is too much to claim, as some have, that Twain invented the American point of view in fiction, but that such a notion might be entertained indicates that his place in American literary culture is secure.

Thomas V. Quirk

 

 

The Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain
1835-1910

Like many of the titles found in the "Children's Classics" section of bookshops, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a children's book as we understand the term these days, and it is not surprising that adaptations of Twain's work aimed at children are usually quite heavily edited. Sharing with Tom Sawyer (1876) a vivid portrayal of Mississippi small town life, replete with colorful characters, superstitions, slang, and river lore, these adventures are of a different kind. The contrast becomes clear quite early on, when the bloodthirsty boys' game of "highwaymen"and ransom organized by Tom is echoed in Huck's escape from his drunken, violent father. In order to avoid being followed, Huck fakes his own murder. Early on in his flight, he links up with the escaped slave Jim, and together they travel down the Mississippi. Along the way they meet an assortment of locals, river folk, good and bad people, and get mixed up with a pair of con men. Many of their adventures are comic, and Huck's naivete in describing them is frequently used to humorous effect. However, the straightforwardness with which Huck relates his experiences allows the narrative to shift unexpectedly from absurdity into much darker terrain, as when he witnesses a young boy of his own age die in a pointless and ridiculous feud with another family
It is these sudden shifts and the contrasts they produce which make this more than an adventure novel. Huck is not necessarily an innocent, but in telling his story he tends to take conventional morals and social relations at face value. By doing so, he brings a moral earnestness to bear on them which exposes hypocrisy, injustice, falsehood, and cruelty more subtly and more scathingly than any direct satire could.

 


THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens, 1835-1910)
Type of plot: Humorous satire
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: Along the Mississippi River
First published: 1884
 

The title character of this famous novel tells his own story in a straightforward narrative laced with shrewd, sharp comments on human nature. The boy's adventures along the Mississippi form the framework of a series of moral lessons, revelations of a corrupt society, and contrasts of innocence and hypocrisy.
 

Principal Characters

Huckleberry Finn, a small-town boy living along the banks of the Mississippi in the 1800s before the American Civil War. Perhaps the best-known youthful character in world fiction, Huck has become the prototype of the boy who lives a life that all boys would like to live; he also helped to shape such diverse characters as Hemingway's Nick Adams and Salinger's Holden Caulfield. His adventurous voyage with the black slave Jim, when they drift down the Mississippi on a raft, is the trip every boy dreams of making, on his own, living by his adaptable wits and his unerring ingenuity. When he contrasts himself with his flamboyant and wildly imaginative friend, Tom Sawyer, Huck feels somewhat inadequate, but deep inside he has a triumphant reliance on the power of common sense. Thus the world of Huck's reality—his capture by and escape from old drunken Pap; the macabre pageant of his townsfolk searching the Mississippi for his supposedly drowned body; his encounters with the King and the Duke, two preposterous swindlers; his stay among the feuding Grangerfords and Shepherdsons; and his defense of the pure, benighted Wilks sisters—is proved to be far more imaginative than Tom Sawyer's imagination. Yet Huck is not some irresponsible wanderer through adolescence. He has a conscience. He knows it is wrong to be harboring a runaway slave, but his friendship with Jim makes him defy the law. His appreciation of the ridiculous allows him to go along with the lies and swindles of the King and the Duke until they seem ready to bring real harm to the Wilks sisters, and he himself will fib and steal to get food and comfort; but his code of boyhood rebels at oppression, injustice, hypocrisy. Mark Twain has created in Huckleberry Finn a magnificent American example of the romanticism that rolled like a great wave across the Atlantic in the nineteenth century.
Jim, the black slave of Miss Watson. Believing that he is about to be sold down the river for eight hundred dollars, he runs away and hides on Jackson's Island, where Huck also takes refuge after faking his own murder in order to escape from Pap. Jim has all the charm and the many inconsistencies of the Southern black. Ignorant, superstitious, gullible, Jim is nevertheless, in Huck's words, "most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a nigger." He will laugh at everything comical, but he suffers poignantly when he thinks of the family he has left in bondage. He protects Huck physically and emotionally, feeling that the boy is the one white person he can trust, never suspecting that Huck is struggling with his conscience about whether to turn Jim in. When the two companions encounter the King and the Duke, Jim is completely taken in by their fakery, though at one point he asks, "Don't it 'sprise you, de way dem kings carries on, Huck?" Typically, Jim is subservient to and patient with the white man. Even when Tom Sawyer arrives at the Phelpses, where Jim has been caught and held, the slave goes through Tom's complicated and romantic ritual of escape with grumbling good nature. Jim is a sensitive, sincere man who seems to play his half-comic, half-tragic role in life because he is supposed to play it that way.
Tom Sawyer, Huck's friend, who can, with a lively imagination stimulated by excessive reading, turn a raid by his gang on a Sunday-School picnic into the highway robbery of "a whole parcel of Spanish merchants and rich A-rabs . . . with two hundred elephants, and six hundred camels, and over a thousand 'sumter' mules, all loaded down with di'monds. ..." He is a foil to the practicality of Huck; he is the universal boy-leader in any small town who can sway his gang or his pal into any act of fancy, despite all grumbling and disbelief. His ritual for the rescue of the captured Jim (who he knows has already been set free by Miss Watson's last will) is a masterful selection of details from all the romantic rescues of fact and fiction.
Pap, Huck's father and the town drunkard. When he learns that Huck has been awarded in trust a share of the money derived from the box of gold found in the robber's cave, he shows up one night at Huck's room at the Widow Douglas'. He takes the pledge and stays in the Widow's spare room. Finding that Huck's share of the money is legally beyond his reach, he breaks the pledge and creates such havoc in the room that "they had to take soundings before they could navigate it." Pap kidnaps his son, keeping him prisoner in an old cabin. He then proceeds to go on a classic drunk, followed by a monumental case of delirium tremens. Snakes in abundance crawl all over him and one bites his cheek, though Huck, of course, can see nothing. The boy finally makes his escape from Pap by killing a pig and leaving bloody evidence of a most convincing murder. Jim discovers Pap's dead body in a flooded boat on the Mississippi.
The King and The Duke, two rapscallions and confidence men with whom Huck and Jim join up on their trip down the Mississippi. Their so-called play, "The Royal Nonesuch," finally leads to their just desserts: tarring, feathering, riding out of town on a rail.
The Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, unsuccessful reformers of Huck after he comes into his fortune.
Aunt Polly, Tom Sawyer's relative who at the end of the story sets straight the by-now complicated identities of Huck and Tom.
The Grangerfords and The Shepherdsons, two feuding families. Huck spends some time with the Grangerfords , who renew the feud when a Grangerford daughter elopes with a young Shepherdson.
Mr. and Mrs. Phelps, at whose farm the captured Jim is confined until Tom arrives to effect his "rescue."
Mary Jane, Susan, and Joanna Wilks, three sisters whom the King and the Duke set out to bilk; Huck thwarts the connivers.
Judge Thatcher, the "law" who protects Huck's interests.

 

The Story

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn had found a box of gold in a robber's cave. After Judge Thatcher had taken the money and invested it for the boys, each had a huge allowance of a dollar a day. The Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson, had taken Huck home with them to try to reform him. At first, Huck could not stand living in a tidy house where smoking and swearing were forbidden. Worse, he had to go to school and learn how to read. He did, however, manage to drag himself to school almost every day, except for the times when he sneaked off for a smoke in the woods or to go fishing in the Mississippi.
Life was beginning to become bearable to him when one day he noticed some tracks in the snow. Examining them closely, he realized that they belonged to the worthless father whom Huck had not seen for more than a year. Knowing that his father would be back hunting him when the old man learned about the six thousand dollars, Huck rushed over to Judge Thatcher and persuaded the judge to take the fortune for himself. The judge was puzzled, but he signed some papers, and Huck was satisfied that he no longer had any money for his father to take from him.
Huck's father finally showed up one night in Huck's room at Widow Douglas' home. Complaining that he had been cheated out of his money, the old drunkard took Huck away with him to a cabin in the woods, where he kept the boy a prisoner, beating him periodically and half starving him. Before long, Huck began to wonder why he had ever liked living with the Widow. With his father, he could smoke and swear all he wanted, and his life would have been pleasant if it had not been for the beatings. One night, Huck sneaked away, leaving a bloody trail from a pig he had killed in the woods. Huck wanted everyone to believe he was dead. He climbed into a boat and went to Jackson's Island to hide until all the excitement had blown over.
After three days of freedom, Huck wandered to another part of the island, and there he discovered Jim. Miss Watson's black slave. Jim told Huck that he had run off because he had overheard Miss Watson planning to sell him down south for eight hundred dollars. Huck swore he would not report Jim. The two stayed on the island many days, Jim giving Huck an education in primitive superstition. One night, Huck rowed back to the mainland. Disguised as a girl, he called on a house near the shore. There he learned that his father had disappeared shortly after the townspeople had decided that Huck had been murdered. Since Jim's disappearance had occurred just after Huck's alleged death, there was now a three-hundred-dollar reward posted for Jim's capture, as most people believed that Jim had killed Huck.
Fearing that Jackson's Island would be searched. Huck hurried back to Jim, and the two headed down the Mississippi. They planned to leave the raft at Cairo and then go on a steamboat up the Ohio into free territory. Jim told Huck that he would work hard in the North and then buy his wife and children from their masters in the South. Helping a runaway slave bothered Huck's conscience, but he reasoned that it would bother him more if he betrayed such a good friend as Jim. One night, as they were drifting down the river on their raft, a large boat loomed before them, and Huck and Jim, knowing that the raft would be smashed under the hull of the ship, jumped into the water. Huck swam safely to shore, but Jim disappeared.
Huck found a home with a friendly family named Grangerford. The Grangerfords were feuding with the Shepherdsons, another family living nearby. The Grangerfords left Huck mostly to himself and gave him a young slave to wait on him. One day, the slave asked him to come to the woods to see some snakes. Following the boy, Huck came across Jim, who had been hiding in the woods waiting for an opportunity to send for Huck. Jim had repaired the broken raft. That night, one of the Gran-gerford daughters eloped with a young Shepherdson, and the feud broke out once more. Huck and Jim ran away during the shooting and set off down the river.
Shortly afterward, Jim and Huck met two men who pretended they were royalty and made all sorts of nonsensical demands on Huck and Jim. Huck was not taken in, but he reasoned that it would do no harm to humor the two men to prevent quarreling. The Duke and the King were clever schemers. In one of the small river towns, they staged a fake show which lasted long enough to net them a few hundred dollars. Then they ran off before the angered townspeople could catch them.
The Duke and the King overheard some people talking about the death of Peter Wilks, who had left considerable property and some cash to his three daughters. Wilks's two brothers, whom no one in the town had ever seen, were living in England. The King and the Duke went to the three daughters, Mary Jane, Susan, and Joanna, and presented themselves as the two uncles. They took a few thousand dollars of the inheritance and then put up the property for auction and sold the slaves. This high-handed deed caused great grief to the girls, and Huck could not bear to see them so unhappy. He decided to expose the two frauds, but he wanted to ensure Jim's safety first. Jim had been hiding in the woods waiting for his companions to return to him. Employing a series of lies, subterfuges, and maneuverings that were worthy of his ingenious mind, Huck exposed the Duke and King. Huck fled back to Jim, and the two escaped on their raft. Just as Jim and Huck thought they were on their way and well rid of their former companions, the Duke and King came rowing down the river toward them.
The whole party set out again with their royal plots to hoodwink the public. In one town where they landed, Jim was captured, and Huck learned that the Duke had turned him in for the reward. Huck had quite a tussle with his conscience. He knew that he ought to help return a slave to the rightful owner, but, on the other hand, he thought of all the fine times he and Jim had had together and how loyal a friend Jim had been. Finally, Huck decided that he would help Jim to escape.
Learning that Mr. Phelps was holding Jim, he headed for the Phelps farm. There, Mrs. Phelps ran up and hugged him, mistaking him for the nephew whom she had been expecting to come for a visit. Huck wondered how he could keep Mrs. Phelps from learning that he was not her nephew. Then to his relief, he learned they had mistaken him for Tom Sawyer. Huck rather liked being Tom for a while, and he was able to tell the Phelps all about Tom's Aunt Polly and Sid, Tom's half brother, and Mary, Tom's cousin. Huck was feeling proud of himself for keeping up the deception. When Tom Sawyer really did arrive, he told his aunt that he was Sid.
At the first opportunity, Huck told Tom about Jim's capture. To his surprise, Tom offered to help him set Jim free. Huck could not believe that Tom would be a slave stealer, but he kept his feelings to himself. Huck had intended merely to wait until there was a dark night and then break the padlock on the door of the shack where Jim was kept; but Tom said the rescue had to be done according to the books, and he laid out a most complicated plan with all kinds of storybook ramifications. It took fully three weeks of plotting, stealing, and deceit to let Jim out of the shack. Then the scheme failed. A chase began after Jim escaped, and Tom was shot in the leg. After Jim had been recaptured, Tom was brought back to Aunt Sally's house to recover from his wound. Then Tom revealed the fact that Miss Watson had died, giving Jim his freedom in her will. Huck was greatly relieved to learn that Tom was not really a slave stealer after all.
To complicate matters still more, Tom's Aunt Polly arrived. She quickly set straight the identities of the two boys. Jim was given his freedom, and Tom gave him forty dollars. Tom told Huck that his money was still safely in the hands of Judge Thatcher, but Huck moaned that his father would likely be back to claim it again. Then Jim told Huck that his father was dead; Jim had seen him lying in an abandoned boat along the river.
Huck was ready to start out again because Aunt Sally said she thought she might adopt him and try to civilize him. Huck thought that he could not go through such a trial again after he had once tried to be civilized under the care of Widow Douglas.

 

Critical Evaluation

Little could Mark Twain have visualized in 1876 when he began a sequel to capitalize on the success of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would evolve into his masterpiece and one of the most significant works in the development of the American novel. With an unerring instinct for American regional dialects, Twain elected to tell the story in Huck's own words. The skill with which Twain elevated the dialect of an illiterate village boy to the highest levels of poetry established the spoken American idiom as a literary language and earned for Twain his reputation— proclaimed by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and others—as the father of the modern American novel. Twain also maintained an almost perfect fidelity to Huck's point of view in order to dramatize the conflict between Huck's own innate innocence and natural goodness and the dictates of a corrupt society.
As Huck's own story, the novel centers around several major themes, including death and rebirth, freedom and bondage, the search for a father, the individual versus society, and the all-pervasive theme of brotherhood. Huck's character reflects a point in Mark Twain's development when he still believed man to be innately good but saw social forces as corrupting influences which replaced, with the dictates of a socially determined "conscience," man's intuitive sense of right and wrong. This theme is explicitly dramatized through Huck's conflict with his conscience over whether or not to turn Jim in as a runaway slave. Huck, on the one hand, accepts without question what he has been taught by church and society about slavery. In his own mind, as surely as in that of his Southern contemporaries, aiding an escaped slave was clearly wrong both legally and morally. Thus, Huck's battle with his conscience is a real trauma for him, and his decision to "go to Hell" rather than give Jim up is made with a certainty that such a fate awaits him for breaking one of society's laws. It is ironic that Huck's "sin" against the social establishment affirms the best that is possible to the individual.
Among the many forms of bondage that permeate the novel, ranging from the Widow's attempt to "civilize" Huck to the code of "honor," which causes Sherburn to murder Boggs and the law of the vendetta which absolutely governs the lives of the Grangerfords and Shep-herdsons, slavery provides Twain his greatest metaphor for both bondage and institutionalized injustice and inhumanity. Written well after the termination of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not an anti-slavery novel in the limited sense that Uncle Tom's Cabin is. Rather than simply attacking an institution already legally dead, Twain uses the idea of slavery as a metaphor for all social bondage and injustice. Thus, Jim's search for freedom, like Huck's own need to escape both the Widow and Pap Finn, is as much a metaphorical search for an ideal state of freedom as mere flight from slavery into free-state sanctuary. Thus, it is largely irrelevant that Twain has Huck and Jim running deeper into the South rather than north toward free soil. Freedom exists neither in the North nor the South but in the ideal and idyllic world of the raft and river.
The special world of raft and river is at the very heart of the novel. In contrast to the restrictive and oppressive social world of the shore, the raft is a veritable Eden where the evils of civilization are escaped. It is here that Jim and Huck can allow their natural bond of love to develop without regard for the question of race. It is here on the raft that Jim can become a surrogate father to Huck, and Huck can develop the depth of feeling for Jim which eventually leads to his decision to "go to Hell." But, while the developing relationship between Huck and Jim determines the basic shape of the novel, the river works in other structural ways as well. The picaresque form of the novel and its structural rhythm are based upon a series of episodes on shore, after each of which Huck and Jim return to the peaceful sanctuary of the raft. It is on shore that Huck encounters the worst excesses of which "the damned human race" is capable, but with each return to the raft comes a renewal of spiritual hope and idealism.
The two major thrusts of Twain's attack on the "civilized" world in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are against institutionalized religion and the romanticism which he believed characterized the South. The former is easily illustrated by the irony of the Widow's attempt to teach Huck religious principles while she persists in holding slaves. As with her snuff taking—which was all right because she did it herself—there seems to be no relationship between a fundamental sense of humanity and justice and her religion. Huck's practical morality makes him more "Christian" than the Widow, though he takes no interest in her lifeless principles. Southern romanticism, which Twain blamed for the fall of the South, is particularly allegorized by the sinking of the Walter Scott, but it is also inherent in such episodes as the feud where Twain shows the real horror of the sort of vendetta traditionally glamorized by romantic authors In both cases. Twain is attacking the mindless acceptance of value?, which he believed kept the South in its dark ages
Many critics have argued that the ending hopelessly flaws The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn b\ reducing its final quarter to literary burlesque. Others have argued that the ending is in perfect accord with Twain's themes. Nevertheless all agree that, flawed or not. the substance of Twain's masterpiece transcends the limits of literary formalism to explore those eternal verities upon which great literature rests. Through the adventures of an escaped slave and a runaway boy, both representatives of the ignorant and lowly of the earth. Twain affirms that true humanity is of men rather than institution-, and that everyone can be aristocrats in the kingdom of the heart.

 

 



THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens, 1835-1910)
Type of plot: Adventure romance
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: St. Petersburg on the Mississippi River
First published: 1876
 

More than a book for boys. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with its rich native humor and shrewd observations of human character, is an idyll of American village life, of that quieter age that had already vanished when Mark Twain re-created St. Petersburg from memories of his own boyhood.
 

Principal Characters

Tom Sawyer, the mischievous ringleader of countless boyish adventures, who almost drives his long-suffering aunt to distraction with his pranks. If not fighting with other village urchins, the indolent boy plans numerous romantic and impractical escapades, many of which cost him hours of conscience-stricken torment. If he is not planning misdemeanors on the high seas, he is looking for buried treasure. Although unthinking, he is not really a bad boy; he is capable of generosity; occasionally, he surprises even himself with magnanimous acts.
Aunt Polly, Tom's warm, tender-hearted aunt. Sometimes this simple scripture-quoting old soul does not understand her mischievous charge. Even though she uses Tom's brother Sid as an example of a model youth, her frequent admonitions, emphasized by repeated thumps on the head with a thimble, fail to have a lasting effect on Tom. Believing herself endowed with subtle guile, she often tries to trap the boy into admitting his pranks. Rarely, however, is she successful. Tom usually manages to outwit her if Sid does not call her attention to certain inexactnesses in Tom's excuses.
Huckleberry Finn, one of Tom's best friends and a social pariah to the village mothers, but not to their sons. In the self-sufficient outcast the boys see everything they want to be. They long for his freedom to do as he pleases. Sometimes, to their regret, the other boys try to emulate their individualistic hero. Carefully, they mark the way he smokes strong tobacco in smelly old pipes and sleeps on empty hogsheads. Although he is not accepted by the mothers, Huck, even if he is vulgar, is a decent, honest lad. Happy only when he can sleep and eat where he pleases, Huck feels uncomfortable when the Widow Douglas takes him into her home.
Becky Thatcher, Tom's sweetheart. With her blue eyes, golden hair, and winsome smile, she captures his rather fickle heart at their first meeting. A little coquette, she, like Tom, alternately suffers from and enjoys their innocent love. Tom proves his generosity and love for her when he admits to the schoolteacher a crime he did not commit, thus astounding the rest of the class by his incredible folly.
Injun Joe, a half-breed. A murderous, sinister figure who lurks mysteriously in the background, the savagely vindictive killer stabs young Dr. Robinson and is subsequently exposed by Tom. In a cave Injun Joe, who had leaped from the court room window during Muff Potter's trial, almost has his revenge against the boy. Finally he pays for his many crimes when he is trapped in the cave and dies of starvation.
Muff Potter, a local ne'er-do-well and, along with Pap Finn, the town drunk. After helping Injun Joe and Dr. Robinson rob a grave, Muff Potter is accused of killing the doctor and almost pays with his worthless life. Had Tom not belatedly intervened, he would have been hanged and Injun Joe would have gone free. When the boys see a stray dog howling at the newly released Potter, asleep in a drunken stupor, they know that he is still doomed.
Sid, Tom's half brother and one of the model boys in the community. A quiet, rather calculating child, he exposes Tom's tricks whenever possible. However, when Tom is presumed drowned, Sid manages a few snuffles. To Tom, Sid's behavior is reprehensible; he keeps clean, goes to school regularly, and behaves well in church.
Mary, Tom's cousin. She is a sweet, lovable girl who often irritates him by insisting that he wash and dress carefully for church.
Judge Thatcher, Becky's pompous but kind-hearted father and the local celebrity.
Joe Harper, who runs away with Tom and Huck to Jackson's Island. Pretending to be pirates, they remain there for several days while the townspeople search for their bodies.

 

The Story

Tom Sawyer lived securely with the knowledge that his Aunt Polly loved him dearly. When she scolded him or whipped him, he knew that inside her breast lurked a hidden remorse. Often he deserved punishment he received, but there were times when he was the victim of his tale-bearing half brother, Sid. Tom's cousin, Mary, was kinder to him. Her worst duty toward him was to see to it that he washed and put on clean clothes, so that he would look respectable when Aunt Polly took Tom, Sid, and Mary to church on Sunday.
A new family had moved into the neighborhood. Investigating, Tom saw a pretty, blue-eyed girl with lacy pantalets. She was Becky Thatcher. Instantly the fervent love he had felt for Amy Lawrence fled from his faithless bosom to be replaced by devotion to the new girl he had just beheld.
Becky was in school the next day, sitting on the girls' side of the room with an empty seat beside her. Tom had come late to school that morning. When the schoolmaster asked Tom why he had been late, that empty seat beside Becky Thatcher caught Tom's eye. Recklessly he confessed he had stopped to talk with Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunk. Huck wore castoff clothing, never attended school, smoked and fished as often as he pleased, and slept wherever he could. For associating with Huckleberry Finn, Tom was whipped by the schoolmaster and ordered to sit on the girls' side of the room. Amid the snickers of the entire class, he took the empty seat next to Becky Thatcher.
Tom first attracted Becky's attention by a series of drawings on his slate. At length, he wrote the words, "I love you," and Becky blushed. Tom urged her to meet him after school. Sitting with her on a fence, he explained to her the possibilities of an engagement between them. Innocently, she accepted his proposal, which Tom insisted must be sealed by a kiss. In coy resistance, she allowed Tom a brief chase before she yielded to his embrace. Tom's happiness was unbounded. When he mentioned his previous tie with Amy Lawrence, however, the brief romance ended. Becky left her affianced with a haughty shrug of her pretty shoulders.
That night, Tom heard Huck's whistle below his bedroom window. Sneaking out, Tom joined his friend, and the two went off to the cemetery, Huck dragging a dead cat behind him. They were about to try a new method for curing warts. The gloomy atmosphere of the burial ground filled the boys with apprehension, and their fears increased still more when they spied three figures stealing into the graveyard. They were Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and Doctor Robinson. Evidently they had come to rob a grave. When the two robbers had exhumed the body, they began to quarrel with the doctor about money, and in the quarrel, Potter was knocked out. Then Injun Joe took Potter's knife and killed the doctor. When Potter recovered from his blow, he thought he had killed Robinson, and Injun Joe allowed the poor old man to believe himself guilty.
Terrified, Tom and Huck slipped away from the scene they had just witnessed, afraid that if Injun Joe discovered them he would kill them too.
Tom brooded on what he and Huck had seen. Convinced that he was ill, Aunt Polly dosed him with Pain Killer and kept him in bed, but he did not seem to recover. Becky Thatcher had not come to school since she had broken Tom's heart. Rumor around town said that she was also ill. Coupled with this sad news was the fear of Injun Joe. When Becky finally returned to school, she cut Tom coldly. Feeling that there was nothing else for him to do, he decided to run away. He met Joe Harper and Huck Finn. Together they went to Jackson's Island and pretended to be pirates.
For a few days they stayed happily on the island and learned from Huck how to smoke and swear. One day they heard a boat on the river, firing a cannon over the water. Then the boys realized that the townspeople were searching for their bodies. This discovery put a new aspect on their adventure; the people at home thought they were dead. Gleeful, Tom could not resist the temptation to see how Aunt Polly had reacted to his death. He slipped back to the mainland one night and into his aunt's house, where Mrs. Harper and Aunt Polly were mourning the deaths of their mischievous but good-hearted children. When Tom returned to the island, he found Joe and Huck tired of their game and ready to go home. Tom revealed to them an attractive plan which they immediately decided to carry out.
With a heavy gloom overhanging the town, funeral services were held for the deceased Thomas Sawyer, Joseph Harper, and Huckleberry Finn. The minister pronounced a lengthy eulogy about the respective good characters of the unfortunate boys. When the funeral procession was about to start, Tom, Joe, and Huck marched down the aisle of the church into the arms of the startled mourners.
For a while, Tom was the hero of all the boys in the town. They whispered about him and eyed him with awe in the schoolyard. Becky, however, ignored him until the day she accidentally tore the schoolmaster's book. When the irate teacher demanded to know who had torn his book, Tom confessed. Becky's gratitude and forgiveness were his reward.
After Muff Potter had been put in jail for the murder of the doctor in the graveyard, Tom and Huck had sworn to each other they would never utter a word about what they had seen. Afraid Injun Joe would murder them for revenge, they furtively sneaked behind the prison and brought Muff food and other cheer; but Tom could not let an innocent man be condemned. At the trial, he appeared to tell what he had seen on the night of the murder. While Tom spoke, Injun Joe, a witness at the trial, sprang through the window of the courtroom and escaped. For days Tom worried, convinced that Injun Joe would come back to murder him. As time went by and nothing happened, he gradually lost his fears. With Becky looking upon him as a hero, his world was filled with sunshine.
Huck and Tom decided to hunt for pirates' treasures. One night, ransacking an old abandoned house, they watched, unseen, while Injun Joe and a companion unearthed a chest of money buried under the floorboards of the house. The two frightened boys fled before they were discovered. The next day, they began a steady watch for Injun Joe and his accomplice, for Tom and Huck were bent on finding the lost treasure.
When Judge Thatcher gave a picnic for all the young people in town, Becky and Tom were supposed to spend the night with Mrs. Harper. One of the biggest excitements of the merrymaking came when the children went into a cave in the riverbank. The next day, Mrs. Thatcher and Aunt Polly learned that Tom and Becky were missing, for Mrs. Harper said they had not come to spend the night with her. Then everyone remembered that Tom and Becky had not been seen since the picnickers had left the cave. Meanwhile the two, having lost their bearings, were wandering in the cavern. To add to Tom's terror, he discovered that Injun Joe was also in the cave. Miraculously, after spending five days in the dismal cave, Tom found an exit that was five miles from the place where they had entered. Again he was a hero.
Injun Joe starved to death in the cave. After searchers had located his body, Tom and Huck went back into the cavern to look for the chest which they believed Injun Joe had hidden there. They found it and the twelve thousand dollars it contained.
Adopted shortly afterward by the Widow Douglas, Huck planned to retire with an income of a dollar a day for the rest of his life. He never would have stayed with the Widow or consented to learn her prim, tidy ways if Tom had not promised that he would form a pirates' gang and make Huck one of the bold buccaneers.

 

Critical Evaluation

Beginning his writing career as a frontier humorist and ending it as a bitter satirist, Mark Twain drew from his circus of experiences, as a child in a small Missouri town (who had little formal schooling), as a printer's apprentice, a journalist, a roving correspondent, a world traveler, silver prospector, Mississippi steamboat pilot, and lecturer. He was influenced, in turn, by Artemus Ward, Bret Harte, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, and G. W. Harris. Beginning with the publication of his first short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," in 1865, and proceeding through his best novels—Innocents Abroad (1869); Roughiing It (1872); The Gilded Age (1873), brilliant in concept but a failure in design and execution; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); Life on the Mississippi (1883); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885); A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889); and The American Claimant (1892)—Twain developed a characteristic style which, though uneven in its productions, made him the most important and most representative nineteenth century American writer. His service as delightful entertainment to generations of American youngsters is equaled only by his influence on such twentieth century admirers as Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway.
Twain's generally careful and conscientious style was both a development of the southwestern humor tradition of Longstreet and Harris and a departure from the con-\entions of nineteenth century literary gentility. It is characterized by the adroit use of exaggeration, stalwart irreverence, deadpan seriousness, droll cynicism, and pungent commentary on the human situation. All of this is masked in an uncomplicated, straightforward narrative distinguished for its wholehearted introduction of the colloquial and vernacular into American fiction that was to have a profound impact on the development of American writing and also shape the world's view of America. Twain, according to Frank Baldanza, had a talent for "paring away the inessential and presenting the bare core of experience with devastating authenticity." The combination of childish rascality and innocence in his earlier writing gave way, in his later and posthumous works, to an ever darkening vision of man that left Twain bitter and disillusioned. This darker vision is hardly present in the three Tom Sawyer books (1876, 1894, 1896) and in his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Twain's lifelong fascination with boyhood play led to the creation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a book of nostalgic recollections of his own lost youth that has been dismissed too lightly by some sober-sided academics as "amusing but thin stuff" and taken too analytically and seriously by others who seek in it the complexities—of carefully controlled viewpoint, multiple irony, and social social satire—found in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, begun in the year The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published. Beyond noting that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a delicate balance of the romantic with the realistic, of humor and pathos, of innocence and evil, one must admit that the book defies analysis. In fact, Twain's opening statement in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, ironically, more applicable to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is purely, simply, and happily "the history of a boy," or as Twain also called it, "simply a hymn, put into prose form to give it a worldly air." It should be read first and last for pleasure, first by children, then by adults.
For The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is also, as even Twain admitted, a book for those who have long since passed from boyhood: "It is not a boy's book at all. It will be read only by adults. It is written only for adults." Kenneth S. Lynn explicates the author's preface when he says that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer "confirms the profoundest wishes of the heart"; as does Christopher Morley, who calls the book "a panorama of happy memory" and who made a special visit to Hannibal because he wanted to see the town and house where Tom lived. During that visit, Morley and friends actually whitewashed Aunt Polly's fence. Certainly there can be no greater testimony to the effectiveness of a literary work than its readers' desire to reenact the exploits of its hero.
Tom is the archetypal ail-American boy, defining in himself the very concept of American boyhood, as he passes with equal seriousness from one obsession to another: whistling, glory, spying, sympathy, flirtation, exploration, piracy, shame, fear—always displaying to the utmost the child's ability to concentrate his entire energies on one thing at a time (as when he puts the treasure hunt out of his mind in favor of Becky's picnic). Tom is contrasted to both Sid, the sanctimonious "good boy" informant who loses the reader's sympathies as immediately as Tom gains them, and to Huck. As opposed to Huck's self-reliant, unschooled, parentless existence, his love of profanity, his passive preference for being a follower, his abhorrence of civilization, Tom is shrewd in the ways of civilization, adventurous and a leader. He comes from the respectable world of Aunt Polly, with a literary mind, with a conscious romantic desire for experience and for the hero's part, an insatiable egotism which assists him in his ingenious schematizations of life to achieve his heroic aspirations—and a general love of fame, money, attention, and "glory." The relationship between the two boys may be compared to that between the romantic Don Quixote and the realist Sancho Panza. It was Twain's genius to understand that the games Quixote played out of "madness" were, in fact, those played by children with deadly seriousness. Lionel Trilling summarizes Twain's achievement in this book when he says that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has the truth of honesty—what it says about things and feelings is never false and always both adequate and beautiful."

 

 



LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
 

Тyре of work: Reminiscence
Author: Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens, 1835-1910)
Type of plot: Regional romance
Time of plot: Mid-nineteenth century
Locale: Mississippi River region
First published: 1883

 

Despite its loose and fragmented structure, Life on the Mississippi is a vivid, dramatic, and extremely interesting collection of reminiscences. Like the mighty river with which it is concerned, the book has become part of the American tradition.

 

The Story

When Mark Twain was a boy, he and his comrades in Hannibal, Missouri, had one great ambition; they hoped to become steamboatmen. They had other ambitions, too, such as joining the circus or becoming pirates, but these soon passed. Only the ambition to be a steamboatman remained, renewed twice each day when the upriver and the downriver boats put in at the rickety wharf and woke the sleepy village to bustling life. Through the years, boy after boy left the river communities, to return later, swaggering in his importance as a worker on a steamboat. Mark Twain saw these boys often, and the fact that some of them had been considered as undeniably damned in the eyes of the pious folk shook Twain's convictions profoundly. He wondered why these boys who flouted Sunday School maxims and ran away from home should win the rewards of adventure and romance that meeker town boys never knew.
Mark Twain, too, had this dream of adventure. His ambition was a lofty one. He determined to become a cub-pilot. While in Cincinnati, he heard that a government expedition was exploring the Amazon. With thirty dollars he had saved he took a boat bound for New Orleans. His intention was to travel on to the headwaters of the Amazon. But the ship was grounded at Louisville, and during the delay Mark came to the attention of Mr. Bixby, the most famous pilot on the Mississippi River. He prevailed upon Bixby to teach him how to navigate.
At first the adventure was a glorious one. But soon Mark found that the more he knew about the river, the less romantic it seemed. Though he was a dutiful student, he discovered that he could not remember everything Bixby told him, regardless of how important this information seemed to be. Furthermore, to his astonishment and despair, his instructor told him that the river was changing its course continually; that there were no such things as permanent landmarks; that the river channel was never the same, but always variable. There were times when the young cub-pilot was frightened, especially when he narrowly missed hitting another ship, or trimmed the boat too close to shore. But worse was the experience of piloting in the dead of night, with no landmarks to observe and only deep blackness all around.
Bixby claimed the secret of navigation was not to remember landmarks, which changed, but to learn the shape of the river and then to steer by the shape in one's head.
It was undeniably an interesting life. The pilot had to be on the lookout for rafts sailing the river at night without lights. Often a whole family would be on a raft, and they would shout imprecations at the steamboat which had just barely missed dumping them all into the river. Then there was the fascinating behavior of the river itself. Prosperous towns would be isolated by a new cutoff and reduced to insignificance; towns and islands in one state would be moved up or down and into another state, or, as sometimes happened, into an area that belonged to no state at all!
The river pilot reigned supreme on his boat. The captain was theoretically the master; but as soon as the boat got under way, the pilot was in charge, and only a very foolhardy captain would have interfered. The importance of the pilot in river navigation eventually led to the formation of a pilots' association. At first the idea seemed ridiculous. But the union grew as, one by one, all the good pilots joined. As a result pilots could make their own terms with the owners. Not only were wages guaranteed but pilots secured better working conditions, pensions, and funds for their widows and orphans. Within a few years the association was the most indestructible monopoly in the country. But its days were numbered. First of all, the railroads came in and river transportation was gradually abandoned in favor of rail traffic. Then, too, the Civil War reduced navigation to a mere trickle and dealt a deathblow to river commerce. The steamboat was no longer an important means of transportation.
From then on the river was different. It seemed very different to Mark Twain when he returned after many years away from it, and saw the changes with nostalgic regret. He traveled once more on the Mississippi, but this time as a passenger and under an assumed name. He listened tolerantly to the man who told him wild and improbable stories about the river, and to a fellow traveler who explained, very explicitly, how everything worked.
Mark Twain decided to search for a large sum of money left by a murderer whom he had met in Germany. He and his companions made plans about the ten thousand dollars soon to be in their possession, and they asked to get off their boat at Napoleon to look for it. Unfortunately, the Arkansas River, years before, had swept the whole town into the Mississippi.
On his return to the river, Mark Twain learned many things he had not known. He witnessed the vast improvements in navigation and in the construction of the boats, improvements that made navigation easier and safer. He talked to the inhabitants of Vicksburg, who described their life during the bombardment of the town by Union forces. He visited Louisiana and expressed horror at the sham castles that passed for good architecture. He read Southern newspapers and saw in them, as in so many Southern traditions, the romantic sentimentality of Sir Walter Scott, an influence that he regretted, hated, and held responsible for the South's lack of progress. He came in contact with a cheerful and clever gambler; he heard about senseless feuds that wiped out entire families; he saw new and large cities that had grown up since he had left the river; he met such well-known writers as Joel Chandler Harris and George W. Cable; he had an experience with a spiritualist who grew rich on the credulous and the superstitious; he witnessed tragedy, and lost friends in steamboat explosions.
The river would never be the same again. The age of mechanization had arrived to stay. The days of the old river pilots, such as Mr. Bixby, were now a thing of the past. America was growing up, and with that growth the color and romance of the Mississippi had faded forever.

 

Critical Evaluation

Twain's book is not really a novel or regional romance. Generically, it is beyond classification—unless the reader is willing to be objective (and humorously enough inclined) to see it for what it is: an open-ended reminiscence, as rambling and broad as its subject, the Mississippi River. Readers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) will remember the dramatic role of the river in that work. Many critics feel the river is the structural foundation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. T. S. Eliot and Lionel Trilling calling the river a "God." It watches over Huck and Jim but also demands wrecked houses and drowned bodies as propitiating sacrifices. In Life on the Mississippi the river is seen with the eyes of a comic reporter, not the creative vision of a dramatic and philosophical novelist posing as a juvenile romancer, Nevertheless, the same characteristics that determine the river's symbolic function in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are singled out and examined here: the dangerous and changing channels, the mud-infested villages, the floods. One way of reading Life on the Mississippi is to see it as the objective research from which Twain ultimately fashioned the art of his greatest story. Indeed, Life on the Mississippi and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stand in relation to each other much in the same way as the chapters describing whaling relate to the story of Ahab and his mad hunt in Melville's Moby Dick (1851).
The primary quality of the Mississippi River basin is its enormous size. How can such a geographic miracle be contained in a memoir? Twain begins by recalling his youth as an apprentice pilot. Even here the foreshadowing of Huckleberry Finn is astonishing: Twain learns to pilot down the same river on which Huck effortlessly floats his raft. Twain must master every curve, point, and bar. The feats of memory necessary to perform the skills of the river pilot are almost superhuman. "Nothing short of perfection will do." Just as Twain recalls first the map of the river as his mind mastered it, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Twain had to strain his creative memory to bring back the Mississippi of his boyhood.
There is something humbling about the later chapters in Life on the Mississippi. True, they are fragmented and often look like padding. But there is an undeniable charm in their rambling quality: they seem to attest to Twain's continual deference to the giant and changing river. Although he learned its every curve as a youth, its natural evolution and the effect of social and technological "progress" astonishes him so much that he is reduced to gathering tall tales and newspaper clippings.

 

 
     
     
 

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