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Mark Twain: An American Treasure Essay, Research Paper

Samuel Clemens, more popularly known as Mark Twain, was one of America?s

favorite authors and his stories intrigued the youth in all classifications of readers.

?People admired Mark Twain?s hardheaded exposures of human vitality, but responded

also to his unembarrassed sentiment, his compassion, and simple humility? (Unger

191). Many other people also admired his ability to effectively use various types of

dialect throughout several of his stories. Mark Twain?s realism helped people to see

the world as it really was, even if it was just through the eyes of young innocent boys.

?His adherence to American themes, settings and language set him apart from many

other novelist of the day and had a powerful effect on such later American writers as

Ernest Hemmingway and William Faulkner, both of whom pointed to Twain as an

inspiration for their own writing? (Encarta 1). Mark Twain was a renowned lecturer,

author, and humorist, but was perhaps one of America?s best treasures because he had

the ability to capture a disposition within his numerous characters and relate that spirit

to his reader.

Born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, Samuel Langhorne Clemens

moved to the small riverside town of Hannibal, Missouri, in 1839. His river home

provided him with many wonderful childhood memories which were the bases for most

of his stories. When Clemens was 12, he quit public school and became a printer?s

apprentice for a newspaper. A few years after his apprenticeship, he began to learn to

navigate steamboats on the Mississippi River. It was during this time, that he set forth

to write under the pen name of Mark Twain. This pseudonym, Mark Twain was ?an

expression used by riverboat crews to indicate that the water at a given spot was two

fathoms deep and therefore easily navigable? (Twain 2).

Twain?s first story written in 1865 was originally entitled Jim Smiley and His

Jumping Frog, and was initially published in a New York newspaper. This story helped

to establish him as a recognizable author. The parable was so popular that he rewrote

it as his first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. He used a

comic western tale which he heard while living and working in a mining camp in the

California gold country. His youthful experiences in the West helped broaden the

story?s aspect and made it quite popular to readers back East.

However, Twain?s earliest attempt at a novel was called The Guilded Age,

written in 1873. He wrote this novel with a co-author Charles Dunley Warner.

Unfortunately, this book did not sell very well, and was a complete failure. It did,

however, give ?its name to the boom times, the post-Civil War age of unbridled

individualism and speculation, which it satirized? (McMichael 238).

However, when he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in 1876, it

was considered quite popular and it established Twain as a great American author.

Mark Twain wrote this novel about his personal ?nostalgic recollections of his early

boyhood in Hannibal [which] stirred him to write his ?boys? book,? Tom Sawyer and its

sequel Huckleberry Finn? (McMichael 238). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was, for all

intended purposes, a children?s book about the ventures of a young boy and his best

friend. The adventures occurred in a small southern town on the Mississippi River

much like the community where Clemens was raised. In this tale, Twain used

symbolism by describing Injun Joe?s scary cave as an example of a labyrinth that the

boy?s had to overcome in order to escape from the evils of the world. Many people

today read this book and it reminds them of their delightful childhood memories of

playing in the river, getting into trouble, and being able to do it all over again the next

day. This book is a classic and is read by many people all over the world, young or old,

and it touches the imagination in everyone.

Furthermore, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was so popular that Twain wrote a

sequel. This story entitled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took five years to write

and was published in 1885. Nonetheless, this work did not feature much of the

previous novel?s main character, Tom Sawyer, but instead involved another character

aspect. The world of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn was such pure make-believe?

pirates, robbers, witches, and devils? as to see than most of The Adventures of

Huckleberry Finn with its shrewder realism and knotty problems of casuistry (Wecter

75). In this literary piece, Huck was escaping from the establishment of home with a

runaway slave named Jim and together they had many adventures on the Mississippi

River banks as they navigated the tribulations of life. Realism came in this narrative

when Jim and Huck realized the bitterness that people are capable of performing.

Although Twain wrote stories to entertain and amuse the reader, he found it necessary

to begin this book with an explanatory to clarify what the reader would experience. He

defined this to educate the reader on the varying dialects of his characters. He wrote

previous to Chapter 1:

?In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro

dialect; the extremist form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the

ordinary ?Pike-County? dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The

shadings have not been done in haphazard fashion, or by guess-work;

but by painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of

personal familiarity with these several forms of speech? (McMichael 264).

The chronicle was a social satire rendered by the characters and whereabouts

that Huck and Jim face, and the story follows Huck?s development of moral

characteristics and what society taught him. By using the common speech of the

Mississippi Delta, Twain captured the essence of his figures. This was only one aspect

of his literary abilities, however.

Not only did Twain use dialect to influence his reader but, he also used

euphemisms and made references from the Bible, as well as from Shakespeare. For

example, when one of the characters says, ?why blame it all, we?ve all got to do it?, the

words ?why blame? are an euphemism for damn. Another example of euphemism is

when someone spoke to Tom and they said, ?… but how in the nation are those fellows

going to be ransomed if we don?t know how to do it to them??. Again, the words ?how in

the nation? referred to damnation. Another aspect of Mark Twain was his constant

references to Biblical quotations. For instance, when ?Miss Watson she took me in the

closet and prayed?, Twain refers to ?When thou prayest, enter into thy

closet…?(Matthew 6:6). Another Bible quotation found in Huck Finn occurred when Jim

and Huck converse about some found money. Jim said, ?…but I had a dream, en de

dream tole me to give it to a nigger name? Balum–Balum?s Ass dey call him for short,…?

This was a pun from Numbers 22:21-34 where the ?story of Balaam who, blind to the

truth, was saved from death by the ass upon which he rode,? (McMichael 291). Even

more Biblical citations exist in the story between Jim and Huck. For instance, Jim talked

about his disbelief in King Solomon?s wisdom when he said, ?Yit dey say Sollermun de

wises? man dat ever live?. I doan? take no stock in dat.? Moreover, several references

were made to Shakespearean plays throughout Huck Finn. For example, Romeo and

Juliet, Richard III, and Macbeth are only a few of William Shakespeare?s masterpieces

which are used by Twain to bring into focus the broadened environment of his


?Critics agree that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn far surpasses The

Adventures of Tom Sawyer in the depth of both its characterization and its themes.?

(Twain 2). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was even more popular that its

precursor and has been known as one of the greatest American novels ever written and

Twain?s masterpiece.

Finally, Life on the Mississippi, another one of Twain?s popular stories, was

basically about his life growing up in the town of Hannibal. In this tale, ?Mark describes

the drowning of a playmate who fell out of an empty flatboat where he was playing?

(Wecter 76). This story was basically an autobiography of his encounters while he was

a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi. In Life on the Mississippi, ?Twain shaped the

world?s view of America and had profound impact on the development of American

writing? (McMichael 239).

In reading the published works of Mark Twain, the reader begins to grasp a

sense of the true American spirit. ?He was the first to immerse himself willingly and

with gusto in the infinitely picturesque and brilliant life of his time and country. He was

the first to understand the common man of his race, and to interpret him fairly, honestly

and accurately,? (Mencken 182). He was, according to some critics, the epitome of

American idealism, and wrote his stories to reflect that basic character. Inspired by his

own boyhood adventures, Twain wrote with a zeal that easily captured the spirit of the

true American in a manner that has withstood time and change.


Hargrove, Jim. Mark Twain The Story of Samuel Clemens. Chicago: Children?s Press,


?Mark Twain? in Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft

Corporation, 1995.

McMichael, George, ed. Mark Twain. Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 2. New

York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989. 237 – 473.

McNeer, May. America?s Mark Twain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962.

Mencken, H .L. Final Estimate. ?Smart Set? Criticism. Cornell: Cornell University

Press, 1968.

Neider, Charles, ed. The Autobiography of Mark Twain. New York: Harper and Row,


North, Sterling. Mark Twain and the River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961.

Seigneuret, Jean-Charles, ed. Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs. L-Z. New

York: Greenwood Press, 1988. 695, 891.

Twain, Mark. Discovering Authors. CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Unger, Leonard, ed. Mark Twain. American Writers. A Collection of Literary

Biographies. Vol. 4. New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1974. 190-213.

Wecter, Dixon. Samuel Clemens of Hannibal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,


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