Why is he important?



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Mark Twain

1835-1910


"I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it... The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'"
Why is he important?

  • His life and work embodied the mythos of the 19th century American—free-thinking and speaking adventurer;

  • His satire helped awaken people to the corruption and ills of society

HOw is he part of his times?



  • He practices realism in his writing in that he writes about his real-life experiences:

    • Life on the Mississippi and Old Times on the Mississippi come from his training to be a steamboat captain;

    • His place among local color writers comes from his travels in the west (Roughing It) and his tours of Europe (Innocents Abroad), both done as travel literature and connected to his work as a newspaper journalist;

    • His greatest works, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are loosely based on his own boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri;

    • He was Darwinian and deistic, believing that one absorbs nature by assembling and assimilating bits of data and believing that God reveals himself neither personally nor scripturally but through “his works.” The deist believes in the divine order of things, and Twain believed in man’s reasoning ability to give meaning to the randomness of nature.

What differentiates him from his contemporaries?



  • Diversity in focus

    • Because he had such a long career as a writer, his focus shifted from humorous and lighthearted at the beginning of his career to dark and cynical towards the end.

  • He was critical of social ills and problems, ranging from slavery to the class system to poverty to governmental corruption;

  • His popularity as a journalist, essayist and lecturer made him a public figure and celebrity.

What are some of the Literary Characteristics of his work?



  • He uses realistic detail in his writing, presenting all facets of life objectively and refusing to sugar-coat the more unpleasant aspects;

  • He uses dialect and colloquialism to give his characters a regional flavor.

  • Early in his career, he is a local colorist, i.e., a regionalist:

    • Local color: literature that focuses on the characters, dialect, customs, topography and other features particular to a specific region;

    • Characteristics of local color/regionalism

      • Setting is important and is often remote

      • Characters are broad stereotypes, exhibiting the character of the region rather than a specific individual

      • Characters speak in dialect and are often stock characters

    • Themes include a dislike for change, a nostalgia for a distant past, and tend to mythologize the subject matter, making it seem larger than life

Twain Quotations Worth Remembering



  • A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes

  • A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.

  • A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

  • All right, then, I'll go to hell.

  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.

  • But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?

  • Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.

  • It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.



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