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Viewing Guide for Mark Twain, a film by Ken Burns




Directions: Respond to the questions as you view the film.
Introduction
(Note that the names Sam Clemens and Mark Twain are used interchangeably.)


  1. According to Twain, why did God invent man?

He was disappointed in the monkey



  1. What sort of jobs did Twain have throughout his life?

Comedian, businessman, writer

Important Idea: If America was going to be the country people wanted it to be, then the problem of race needed to be resolved.


  1. When and where was Twain born?

November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri


  1. What was Twain’s birth name?

Samuel Clemens

  1. What event took place in the evening sky on the night of Twain’s birth?

Halley’s comet

  1. Clemens said he never saw his father ______laugh__________.




  1. Clemens’s mother delighted in hearing and telling _____tall tales_________________.




  1. Clemens’s family moved to Hannibal__________, and this is where he gathered the stories for his future tales. Twain describes this place as an “Eden, an eternal summer.”




  1. Sam’s best friend was _Tom, son of the town drunkard.




  1. Who were Uncle Dan’l and Aunt Hannah? Why were they important?


They were he uncle’s slaves who introduced him to spirituals and jubilees. They were the first voices of his childhood. They were metaphorical story-tellers.


  1. Why did Sam drop out of school? His father died, and he needed to work to hel support the family.




  1. What was Sam’s first job? He worked for a newspaper as a printer’s apprentice.



  1. At age 17, Sam set off down the river. It was the beginning of a lifetime of wandering. What two things did he promise his mother he would not do? Drink and gamble




  1. What did Sam decide he wanted to do once he got on the steamship Paul Jones?


-- go to Brazil to trade in cocoa plants.
Safe Water

  1. Clemens became an apprentice to the captain of the Paul Jones.




  1. Where did Clemens get his final pen name, Mark Twain? What does “Mark Twain” mean?


Mark Twain is a water measurement that means “twelve feet; safe water”



  1. In 1858 Clemens became a cub pilot and his brother Henry joined him as a clerk on the steamboat Pennsylvania. What happened and whom did Sam blame? Henry and Sam took different steamboats to visit their sister. Henry’s steamboat exploded, and Henry was badly burned. He eventually died of his injuries. Clemens blamed himself for bringing Henry on the riverboat.




  1. In 1859, Clemens became a riverboat pilot for $250____ dollars a month.




  1. What did Clemens think about being a pilot? He felt that a pilot was the only truly independent person. He was an absolute monarch.




  1. Clemens said his time on the river was his __schooling_. He was a prodigious “noticer.” He noticed everything.




  1. Why did Clemens stop being a riverboat pilot? Commercial traffic on the Mississippi River stopped when the Civil War began.

Old Voices

  1. During the summertime the Clemens would travel to Livy’s sister’s home, Quarry Farm. They did this for 20 years. Who did Sam make friends with there?

Clemens made friends with John T. Lewis, a free African-American pig farmer from Maryland.


  1. Mary Ann Cord was the cook at Quarry Farm. She was African American. She told her life story to the Clemens family, and Twain was so moved by it that he wrote it down, renaming Mary Ann as Aunt Rachel, as a piece he titled “A True Story as I Heard It,” which was published in The Atlantic Monthly. What were the “troubles” that Mary Ann/Aunt Rachel had lived through? Mary Ann was separated from her family when her husband and seven children were sold away from her.



  1. What was Twain’s method of composition? Twain would write in isolation, on the top of a hill overlooking a valley. He would write during the day and share his stories with his family in the evenings.



  1. Summers at Quarry Farm were where Twain wrote about his past and created the characters of __Tom Sawyer____, Becky Thatcher, and _Huckleberry Finn___.

  2. Twain wrote seemingly simple sentences with characters that are seemingly simple, and this made the reader trust what was written. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the best loved of all Twain’s books. It’s the Norman Rockwell version of what we’d like to think boyhood_ is.




  1. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, one of the most famous passages is about how Tom tricks another boy into white-washing the fence.


All Right Then, I’ll Go to Hell

  1. “The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning ___ and a _____lightning bug______________________.”

  2. After Twain had written about 400 pages of Huck Finn he still wasn’t sure he liked it and often put it aside over the next seven years. Huck Finn started as a sequel to _______Tom Sawyer_, but became something different because of the Emancipation Proclamation and then the end of Reconstruction.




  1. In 1882, after a steamboat trip on the Mississippi River, Twain started on Huck Finn again. What is it believed that Twain was looking at while on that steamboat trip? What did he see? He saw the horrible failure of freeing the slaves.




  1. Huck Finn would be Twain’s masterpiece_.




  1. Twain probably didn’t realize how revolutionary Huck Finn was at the time he was writing it. However, he cut American literature loose with Huck Finn. What did Hemingway say about the book? It was the beginning of American lit.




  1. Huck Finn is written completely in dialect and from a Southerner’s perspective that changes. How does Twain treat the subject of slavery in Huck Finn?


He demystifies it and takes the romanticism away

  1. Huck Finn was first banned by the _________Concord, MA library_________________ because of the ___________coarse language_______________________. Other eras’ own demons have caused continual banning of this novel.


Introduction to Part II

  1. By 50 years of age, Mark Twain was known as the best known writer __on_____ __Earth_____________.

  2. Huckleberry Finn was the first book that took an American dialect and made it ___great_________ _____litearture______.

  3. Who did Mark Twain meet at Yale? What role does this man play in history?

Warner T. McGuinn, the first African-American graduate of Yale Law. McGuinn became was a mentor to Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Judge.


  1. A Mark Twain scholar says that Twain’s work changed the world ___at_________ _____the_________ ____edges________.


The American

  1. “I am not ____an______ American, I am ____the_________ American.” - Mark Twain




  1. Halley’s Comet was coming again in 1910. “It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I _____don’t_________ go ______out___________ with it.” – Mark Twain




  1. His friend said that Twain was the ______Lincoln_________________ of our Literature.




  1. Twain’s literature teaches us what it is to be _________human____________________.





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