Mark Twain: Literary Analysis
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Mark Twain, one of the most famous and influential American writers, was born in Hannibal, Missouri on November 30, 1835 and died April 21, 1910. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, he eventually adopted his famous pseudonym in 1863. Shortly after his fathers death in 1847, when Clemens was twelve, his father passed away. After his father death, he applied for an apprenticeship at the local-printing shop. While working in the printing shop, Twain learned the skills required to be a printer and developed an aptitude for witty short essays and responses. Mark Twain was enthralled by his opportunity to develop his skills as a printer, and later he realized that he had a unique talent for writing. By working as an apprentice printer, he helped pay for family expenses and by age sixteen he began writing humorous articles and newspaper sketches, which could have been is his reason for becoming an author.
A common theme which was present in all of Mark Twains short stories that were read was his satirical style of writing. He commonly used satire in stories to evoke a response in readers – his form was mainly used to compel the reader to pause and reflect on his literature. In the three short stories that were read; “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”, and “The Invalids Story”, Mark Twain wrote in a funny and sarcastic style that would entertain any reader. Sometimes, his choice of words and the way he foretold certain events and even the layout of his short stories was even ironic.
In “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” Twain used the natural integrity and virtue of the human soul to wreck havoc and turmoil on a town. This story was very ironic because it began by describing the honorable and noble history of Hadleyburg and the great amount of ethical morals held by all people in the town. At the end of the story, every man in town is vying for a bag of gold that has been left by some mysterious visitor, and their ways of vying for it are far from appropriate. The story in itself is a great example of how easily moral destruction can occur within an ingenuous town, all because of one person who wished to corrupt it not by force or by physical harm, but by possibly the greatest method of all destruction – the human mind.
Many critics agree that Twains skilled use of the satirical literary style, defines himself as a writer. “If the prevailing spirit of Mark Twains humor is not a sort of good-natured self-satire, in which the reader may see his own absurdities reflected, I scarcely should be able to define it” (Howells). This similarity was present in all three short stories.
Not only was satire a common recurring premise in all three of Mark Twains short stories, but also his style of narrating his stories in first person was also present. Throughout his short stories, this was another repetitive theme. He commonly narrated his stores in first person and for the most part, kept the tense consistent. In the three short stories, Mark Twain was the narrator and it was through his eyes that the reader witnessed the story.
In “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, Twain displayed an extraordinarily amount of boasting.
“Maybe you understand frogs and maybe you dont understand em; maybe youve had experience, and maybe you aint only a amateur, as it were. Anyways, Ive got my opinion, and Ill resk forty dollars that he can out jump any frog in Calaveras County. I should judge – he can.” (The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County)
This passage from the story indicates Twains first person narrative. In many of his short stories, Twain took an autobiographical approach in his first person narratives. Many critics believe that this autobiographical approach is used mainly to reveal his own character through the travails and lessons that his characters learned. “Mark Twain often creates characters who have a sense of superiority, and if not apparent at the beginning of a novel, undoubtedly emerge at the end; becoming the superior character that Twain supposes himself to be” (Schmidt, “Criticism” 291). This narration style along with his technique of humor was a theme consistently used in his short stories.
Another similarity found in Twains three short stories was his utilization of his southwestern humor. Twains autobiographical approach served “as only one phase of the frankness of his humorous attitude” (Century Magazine).
“Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny