18 Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

Amy Berke; Jordan Cofer; and Doug Davis

File:Mark Twain by AF Bradley.jpg
Image | Mark Twain, 1907 Photographer | A. F. Bradley Source | Wikimedia Commons License | Public Domain

Mark Twain is the pen name of author Samuel Langhorne Clemmons. Twain was born in Florida, Missouri, but grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, near the banks of the Mississippi River. This location was a major influence on his work and severed as the setting for many of his stories. Although Twain originally apprenticed as a printer, he spent eighteen months on the Mississippi River training as a riverboat pilot (the name Mark Twain is a reference to a nautical term). By the start of the Civil War (1861), traffic on the Mississippi River had slowed considerably, which led Twain to abandon his dreams of piloting a riverboat. Twain claims to have spent two weeks in the Marion Rangers, a poorly organized local confederate militia, after leaving his job on a riverboat. In 1861, Twain’s brother Orion was appointed by President Lincoln to serve as the Secretary of Nevada, and Twain initially accompanied him out West, serving as the Assistant Secretary of Nevada. Twain’s adventures out West would become the material for his successful book, Roughing It!, published in 1872, following on the heels of the success of his international travelogue, Innocents Abroad (1869). While living out West, Twain made a name for himself as a journalist, eventually serving as the editor of the Virginia City Daily Territorial Enterprise. The multi-talented Twain rose to prominence as a writer, journalist, humorist, memoirist, novelist, and public speaker.

Twain was one of the most influential and important figures of American Literary Realism, achieving fame during his lifetime. Twain was hailed as America’s most famous writer, and is the author of several classic books such as The Adventure of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Roughing It!, Innocents Abroad, Life on the Mississippi (1883), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). Twain is known for his use of dialect, regional humor, and satire, as well as the repeated theme of having jokes at the expense of an outsider (or work featuring an outsider who comes to fleece locals).

In his famous “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which has also been published under its original title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” and “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain experiments with early versions of meta-fiction, embedding a story within a story. Furthermore, the story relies on local color humor and regional dialect (“Why blame my cats”) as well as featuring an outsider entering a new place, a staple in Twain’s work. In Roughing It!, which details Twain’s travels out West from 1861-1867, Twain details many adventures visiting with outlaws and other strange characters, as well as encounters with notable figures of the age, such as Brigham Young and Horace Greeley. Furthermore, Roughing It! provided descriptions of the frontier from Nevada to San Francisco to Hawaii to an audience largely unfamiliar with the area. Although he claimed it to be a work of non-fiction, Roughing It! features many fantastic stories of Twain’s travels in the West, several of which were exaggerated or untrue. In “The War Prayer,” a satire of the Spanish-American War (1898), Twain proves to be a master of irony. The story, which was originally rejected during Twain’s lifetime, begins as a prayer for American soldiers and, as it continues, highlights many of the horrors of war.



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American Literatures After 1865 Copyright © by Amy Berke; Jordan Cofer; and Doug Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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