Mark Twain was a pilot, a comic lecturer, a humorist, a short story writer, and a novelist, to name a few of his many accomplishments. On November 30, 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, became the first man of any importance ever to be born west of the Mississippi River. He has become an icon as the American writer. This is because his way of writing cannot be simulated by Europeans or anyone else, due to the fact that the western setting of America creates a whole new atmosphere and style of writing. Mark Twain is a classic American writer that acquired fame by using satire, writing with single-minded use of words, and by writing the way that most people think and speak.
Twain writes with single-minded use of words, which is understood to be plain and simple, yet still intelligent, which enhances American literature. He writes what comes into his mind without fear. This is an example from Huckleberry Finn: … “then comes a h-wack! bum! bum! bumble-umble-um-bum-bum-bum-bum – and the thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away” … (Twain 45). This enriches American literature, because it is a clever way, and the only way to make the reader actually seem to hear and feel the sounds the writer is trying to convey.
This is an example from Tom Sawyer :
“Set her back on the stabboard! Ting-a-ling-ling! chow! ch-chow-wow! chow!”.
(Twain 15). This dialect can be explained as a familiar speech spoken around us all the time. It is the speech of the illiterate, the preliterate, the children, and the poor people (Bloom 46). This is actually a very intelligent style of writing, for it is difficult for an author to write in a different level of dialect than they actually speak. The reader can tell that this dialect isn t Twain s own, since he doesn t write with it in every part of the book. Huckleberry Finn is supposed to be written from Huck s point of view. The story is written as he would speak it, so mistakes inevitably appear. However, this single- minded dialect was worked, composed, and written by Twain. It was not done haphazardly (Bloom 46). American literature would not be the same if not for Twain s ideas for ways of writing in a way that spectacularly conveys the feelings of touch, sound, and sight by the use of single-minded words.
Another way that Mark Twain enriches the heritage of American literature is by his style of writing in the vernacular, which means to write the way that people think and speak (Kesterson 14). The vernacular portrays the word in the purest sense of its original meaning. The vernacular symbolizes American writing because nobody else on earth would talk in that way besides the early American settlers. An example from Huckleberry Finn is : ” I reck n I could eat a hoss. I think I could. How long you ben on de islan ?” (Twain 46). This style is done by writing without worrying about spelling or context, and rather just writing the way that the speech sounds. This style of writing is uniquely American, because the famous European authors did not write that way since the people of Europe didn t speak that way. Another example from this book is: ” Say, who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I didn t hear sumf n.” (Twain 5). Europeans had never spoken like this or heard of it before Mark Twain. The vernacular enhances American writing solely because it is uniquely early American. It also gives a face to American writing, distinguishing it from writing in other parts of the world.
The vernacular also shows the rural, uneducated portion of America. These are two examples from Tom Sawyer : ” Can t, Mars Tom. Ole missis, she tole me I got to go an git dis water an not stop foolin roun wid anybody. She say she spec Mars Tom gwine to ax me to whitewash, an so she tole me to go long an tend to my own business – she lowed she d tend to de whitewashin ” (Twain 13). Another example is: ” Look at him, Jim! He s a-going up there. Say-look! He s a-going to shake hands with him…”(Twain 38). This shows how they are uneducated, because of the sloppy sentence structure, and it hints at the fact of them being rural by mentioning whitewashing the fence. This enriches American literature by showing a point of view from the poor, which is welcome to those who are tired of hearing about the glamour of rich people.
Mark Twain s legacy as a humorist is to use satire, which greatly enhances American literature. Satire is a term for a work that uses ridicule to attack ideas, institutions, people, or other objects taken from real life. The main purpose for using satire is to arouse disdain for its targets (Rasmussen 418). It belittles human weaknesses, using humor as its weapon (Rasmussen 418). Twain doesn t try to mislead the readers intentionally, for he believes that all humans already misunderstand themselves (Kesterson 27).
One example of satire is in the Grangerford episode of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Here, Twain attempts to make fun of Shakespeare s Romeo and Juliet by mocking the story line. Both stories include two otherwise intelligent families who destroy each other because of a feud so old, they don t even know why they re fighting (Rasmussen 419). The story lines are so similar, everybody knows that he s mocking Romeo and Juliet, but the subtle twists make it humorous.
Another example of satire is in Twain s first novel, The Gilded Age. This book is filled with a lot of sharp satire that “satirizes almost every aspect of 19th century political and social mores.” (Rasmussen 419). The whole idea of this book was focused on satire. People liked this book so much that there were constant cries for a sequel (Kesterson 71). Surely enough, the sequel to The Gilded Age , called The American Claimant was written. It is about a democratic English noble, Lord Berkeley, who comes to America prepared to give up inherited Aristocratic privileges for republican equality. However, the American society is obsessed with grasping for what he wants to cast off (Rasmussen 419). For example, Lord Berkeley came to America for hope of less authority from the government, however, the Americans were stuck on the idea that giving the government more power would be better for them in the long run. This acute example of satire is directed at the people of America whom wish to go back to the old traditions of England. Twain uses satire in this book to make the American people question why they would come to the “land of freedom” if they were planning on turning around and giving the government more authority than necessary.
Another great example of Twain s use of satire is in his novel called Captain Stormfield s Visit to Heaven. This novel has very clear satirical targets and sticks to them the whole story (Rasmussen 419). As it says in Rasmussens s Mark Twain A to Z, “Stormfield discovers that Earth counts for so little in the cosmic scheme of things that a clerk in heaven needs two days just to find it on a map” (p. 419). This is pointing out the vanity of all human beings. The satire in this book enriches American literature, by letting readers see themselves in a new light that they may not have thought about before reading it.
Using satire, single-minded words, and writing in the vernacular has all helped Mark Twain to become the classic American icon that he is today. He left behind a legacy of unmatched ingenuity to think of sharp, efficient satire in many of his writings. Twain s use of single-minded words captures the reader s attention, making them feel almost as if they are in the book themselves. His masterful use of the vernacular portrays the speech of early rural America. Twain s use of the vernacular lets the reader read more smoothly since they do not have to pay attention to the structural significance of the word. Since Mark Twain was the first truly great western author to define American writing, he has opened the way for many future authors to come.
Bloom, Harold. Interpretations of Mark Twain s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. NewYork:
Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.
Clemens, Samuel L. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. NewYork: Dodd, Mead &
Rasmussen, Kent R. Mark Twain A to Z. NewYork: Facts on File, Inc., 1995.
Stapleton, Michael, comp. The Cambridge Guide to English Literature. NewYork:
Cambridge University Press, 1983.