Sunteți pe pagina 1din 2

MARK TWAIN (1835-1910) The man who did most to lead the way to an indigenous literature was Mark

Twain, as Samuel L. Clemens is known universally. In this thorough American the spirit of expansion that followed the war was incarnate. He understood the "divine average." He had had the good fortune to know many parts of his country at first hand; he had engaged in various occupations that kept him close to the ordinary idiom and the average point of view; and he profited by his experiences to the extent of maintaining his loyalty to democratic institutions throughout his vigorous career. In 1865 Mark Twain attained fame with the publication in New York of his hoax, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." The story was keyed to the jubilant, reckless West. Liking the author's style, a newspaper next sent him to Europe and the Holy Land to report what he saw "with his own eyes." This he did in Innocents Abroad ( 1869), to the uttermerriment of his countrymen who had been suspicious of such romantic accounts as Outre-Mer and Pencillings by the Way, and now found their suspicions confirmed. The irreverence of Innocents Abroad was not directed so much at old world institutions, however, as at the romantic tourist with his sentimental conception of art and travel. More important books followed. First came Roughing It ( 1872), a social study of the days of the gold seekers with whom in the early 'sixties he had journeyed by stage-coach across the plains and mountains to Nevada. Then followed Life on the Mississippi ( 1883), with its intimate account of another phase of American civilization, now also vanished forever. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ( 1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ( 1884), picaresque romances both, marked the height of their author's powers, and Pudd'nhead Wilson ( 1894) concluded what has been well called "our American Odyssey." What is Man? ( 1906) and The Mysterious Stranger ( 1916), both written in 1898, and The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg ( 1899) were the most noteworthy expression of his nihilism. It was as a humorist that Mark Twain gained his reputation. Irreverence and exaggeration were the essence of his humor; both rested on incongruity, and depended for their effect on an assumption of innocent seriousness. Of the camels in Innocents Abroad he writes: "They are not particular about their diet. They would eat a tombstone if they could bite it." In Huckleberry Finn, "Aunt Sally. . . was astanding on top of the bed raising Cain, and the rats was doing what they could to keep off the dull times for her." Sometimes, he uses the surprise of anti-climax, as when Tom Sawyer in preparation for Sunday School "looked exceedingly improved and uncomfortable." At other times his figures are exquisitely inappropriate; as "Here comes the old man . . . looking as absent-minded as year before last." Impertinences add a dash of humor to his narrative every now and then. He was an iconoclast who used humor to attain his ends. Unfortunately, much of his humor grew out of individual situations and was not, as in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, centered in character and thereby insured immortality. Because the humor in some of his work was not organic, and because of its frequent over-emphasis, it is yielding ground to his romance. Mark Twain's ability at romance, his power to recreate landscape and atmosphere, first appeared in Roughing It. Travel over the plains by stage-coach, and life in the crude mining villages, he had viewed through the eyes of a realist, and now, under the glamor of imagination, his glowing narrative evoked the romantic atmosphere of those irresponsible days. The pony express, the Mormons, jackrabbits and coyotes, miners and desperadoes, Lake Tahoe and the sierras, Kilauea and the Sandwich-Islanders, all have their part in this epic of the golden West. The author recalls vividly the gambling spirit of the frontier, when a few successes caused an unreasoning optimism that shortly gave place to blackest despair. Like

most of his books, Roughing It is very uneven in quality; but in none of them are there passages of more poetic beauty, grimmer irony, or more ebullient fun. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, his most popular books, depict boy life in the small Missouri town in which Mark Twain was reared, and, in a large sense, boy life anywhere. The former pictures the romantic attitude toward discipline and duty, the large element of superstition in boys reared with negroes, and the perennial spirit of adventure, centering, in this case, around a midnight murder and a treasure hunt in a cave. With the advent of Tom Sawyer the "Rollo" books lost their potency and the dime-novel that had enjoyed a clandestine popularity since the 'fifties came into literary respectability. In the narrative the mischievous lad's cleverness was set over against whatever was insincere in the institutional life of the small town; but of the simple virtues Tom was a champion. The episode of whitewashing the fence will not readily be forgotten by any reader of this vivid anecdotal story. Huckleberry Finn, the pendent, is episodic also, but is somewhat more unified by its underlying philosophy. Through Huck's nave but shrewd observations, the reader sees many kinds of society in the river towns and is brought face to face quite incidentally with profound social facts. The son of the town drunkard, left to shift for himself and to gain what ethics he may from nature, drifts down the river on a raft with a runaway negro, runs into the Grangerford-Shepherdson vendetta, meets with impostors like the "king" and the "duke," and handles the problem of stealing a negro out of slavery. It is an old plot--telling how men in hard straits have succeeded and the spell lies in the richness and vividness of the detail. Not a little of the interest is owing to the realistic portrayal of the negro, Jim, who contrasts effectively with the didactic Uncle Tom of Mrs. Stowe. Most impressive of all is the relation established between the human scene and the broad, changing river, the author's "sense of the half-barbaric charm and the romantic possibilities in that grey wilderness of moving water and the rough men who trafficked on it." The story is as simple as Gulliver's and it is as profound a study as Swift's famous book. It has the spirit of eternal youth and is a very gem of romance and humor. For all his spontaneous humor, Mark Twain was at heart a serious man.In The Prince and the Pauper he wrote a parable of democracy. In the Connecticut Yankee he tried, as he said, "to pry up the English nation to a little higher level of manhood." This quixotic satire on feudal institutions and their spurious chivalry reaches farther, however, until it touches all superstition. Living at a period when many came under the influence of the brilliant orator, Robert G. Ingersoll, Mark Twain became an ethical and material determinist. To the question raised in What is Man? he replied, "a mere automaton." The Mysterious Stranger he conceived out of the depths of despair. The difference between it and the earlier books is so prodigious as to convince one there were two Mark Twains, a conviction confirmed by reading the Autobiography. But Mark Twain's pessimism, ironical as it may seem, is, at bottom, sentimental. Living in a utilitarian age, he staked his faith not on beauty, but on comfort. This explains his early contempt for Europe, and his later contempt for mankind. Yet a society that frustrates its imaginative life, he vaguely perceived, is futile; for man to be a mere cog in a comfort-grinding machine, he felt, takes the zest out of human issues. That a man need not accept the values that surround him, but may find his salvation in ever creating new values, he apparently failed to see. Mark Twain's reputation, however, does not rest on his philosophy but on his portrayal of life in mid-nineteenth centuryAmerica. He gave the bracing air of the prairie, the rising thrill of Western adventure and its hazard for new fortunes, the haunting beauty and picturesque romance of the stately Mississippi; and synchronized them with the new national aspirations. Out of it he evolved a humor, an infectious and hilarious nonsense, as rugged and free as the conditions that gave it birth.