Essay, Research Paper: Samuel Clemens As Mark Twain

Literature: William Faulkner

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), American writer and humorist, whose best
work is characterized by broad, often irreverent humor or biting social satire.
Twain's writing is also known for realism of place and language, memorable
characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression. Born in Florida, Missouri,
Clemens moved with his family to Hannibal, Missouri, a port on the Mississippi
River, when he was four years old. There he received a public school education.
After the death of his father in 1847, Clemens was apprenticed to two Hannibal
printers, and in 1851 he began setting type for and contributing sketches to his
brother Orion's Hannibal Journal. Subsequently he worked as a printer in Keokuk,
Iowa; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and other cities. Later Clemens
was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River until the American Civil War
(1861-1865) brought an end to travel on the river. In 1861 Clemens served
briefly as a volunteer soldier in the Confederate cavalry. Later that year he
accompanied his brother to the newly created Nevada Territory, where he tried
his hand at silver mining. In 1862 he became a reporter on the Territorial
Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, and in 1863 he began signing his articles
with the pseudonym Mark Twain, a Mississippi River phrase meaning "two
fathoms deep." After moving to San Francisco, California, in 1864, Twain
met American writers Artemus Ward and Bret Harte, who encouraged him in his
work. In 1865 Twain reworked a tale he had heard in the California gold fields,
and within months the author and the story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of
Calaveras County," had become national sensations. In 1867 Twain lectured
in New York City, and in the same year he visited Europe and Palestine. He wrote
of these travels in The Innocents Abroad (1869), a book exaggerating those
aspects of European culture that impress American tourists. In 1870 he married
Olivia Langdon. After living briefly in Buffalo, New York, the couple moved to
Hartford, Connecticut. Much of Twain's best work was written in the 1870s and
1880s in Hartford or during the summers at Quarry Farm, near Elmira, New York.
Roughing It (1872) recounts his early adventures as a miner and journalist; The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) celebrates boyhood in a town on the Mississippi
River; A Tramp Abroad (1880) describes a walking trip through the Black Forest
of Germany and the Swiss Alps; The Prince and the Pauper (1882), a children's
book, focuses on switched identities in Tudor England; Life on the Mississippi
(1883) combines an autobiographical account of his experiences as a river pilot
with a visit to the Mississippi nearly two decades after he left it; A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) satirizes oppression in feudal
England (see Feudalism). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), the sequel
to Tom Sawyer, is considered Twain's masterpiece. The book is the story of the
title character, known as Huck, a boy who flees his father by rafting down the
Mississippi River with a runaway slave, Jim. The pair's adventures show Huck
(and the reader) the cruelty of which men and women are capable. Another theme
of the novel is the conflict between Huck's feelings of friendship with Jim, who
is one of the few people he can trust, and his knowledge that he is breaking the
laws of the time by helping Jim escape. Huckleberry Finn, which is almost
entirely narrated from Huck's point of view, is noted for its authentic language
and for its deep commitment to freedom. Huck's adventures also provide the
reader with a panorama of American life along the Mississippi before the Civil
War. Twain's skill in capturing the rhythms of that life help make the book one
of the masterpieces of American literature. In 1884 Twain formed the firm
Charles L. Webster and Company to publish his and other writers' works, notably
Personal Memoirs (two volumes, 1885-1886) by American general and president
Ulysses S. Grant. A disastrous investment in an automatic typesetting machine
led to the firm's bankruptcy in 1894. A successful worldwide lecture tour and
the book based on those travels, Following the Equator (1897), paid off Twain's
debts. Twain's work during the 1890s and the 1900s is marked by growing
pessimism and bitterness-the result of his business reverses and, later, the
deaths of his wife and two daughters. Significant works of this period are
Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), a novel set in the South before the Civil War that
criticizes racism by focusing on mistaken racial identities, and Personal
Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), a sentimental biography. Twain's other
later writings include short stories, the best known of which are "The Man
That Corrupted Hadleyburg" (1899) and "The War Prayer" (1905);
philosophical, social, and political essays; the manuscript of "The
Mysterious Stranger," an uncompleted piece that was published posthumously
in 1916; and autobiographical dictations. Twain's work was inspired by the
unconventional West, and the popularity of his work marked the end of the
domination of American literature by New England writers. He is justly renowned
as a humorist but was not always appreciated by the writers of his time as
anything more than that. Successive generations of writers, however, recognized
the role that Twain played in creating a truly American literature. He portrayed
uniquely American subjects in a humorous and colloquial, yet poetic, language.
His success in creating this plain but evocative language precipitated the end
of American reverence for British and European culture and for the more formal
language associated with those traditions. His adherence to American themes,
settings, and language set him apart from many other novelists of the day and
had a powerful effect on such later American writers as Ernest Hemingway and
William Faulkner, both of whom pointed to Twain as an inspiration for their own
writing. In Twain's later years he wrote less, but he became a celebrity,
frequently speaking out on public issues. He also came to be known for the white
linen suit he always wore when making public appearances. Twain received an
honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1907. When he died he left an
uncompleted autobiography, which was eventually edited by his secretary, Albert
Bigelow Paine, and published in 1924. In 1990 the first half of a handwritten
manuscript of Huckleberry Finn was discovered in Hollywood, California. After a
series of legal battles over ownership, the portion, which included previously
unpublished material, was reunited with its second half, which had been housed
at the Buffalo and Erie County (New York) Public Library, in 1992. A revised
edition of Huckleberry Finn including the unpublished material was released in
1996.
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