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Thread: Why is Mark Twain widely read?

  1. #1
    Registered User Amylian's Avatar
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    Why is Mark Twain widely read?

    Guys,

    It is crazy out here; whenever I ask someone about a book that contains the theme of Slavery in it, I hear Mark Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. Ok, slavery is abolished, and books about slavery such as Howthorn's are rarely read or known except for the fact that Twain is not. He is widely read which is why I posted this thread to ask this: Why is he widely read although his novels are somewhat all about slavery and adventures?

    Regards,
    Amylian.

  2. #2
    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amylian View Post
    Guys,

    It is crazy out here; whenever I ask someone about a book that contains the theme of Slavery in it, I hear Mark Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. Ok, slavery is abolished, and books about slavery such as Howthorn's are rarely read or known except for the fact that Twain is not. He is widely read which is why I posted this thread to ask this: Why is he widely read although his novels are somewhat all about slavery and adventures?

    Regards,
    Amylian.
    Mark Twain was a great writer, and Huckleberry Finn was a great novel. Slavery was part of the background of the time, but that wasn't what the novel was about. Slavery was not involved in all of his novels, but he wrote about characters who did things,so much of his writing was about "adventures". If you have only read Huckleberry Finn, then you don't know much about Twain's writing.

  3. #3
    Literature Fiend Mariamosis's Avatar
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    Mark Twain referenced to slaves quite frequently due to the fact that he was a writer in the southern United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. (as has been stated) If you read 'Huckleberry Finn', 'The Lowest Animal', 'Puddn'head Wilson', 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court', amongst others you will continually notice a theme of slavery in one sense or another.

    In many of Twain's writings he repeatedly hinted at different forms of human bondage. Whether they be in reference to the African slaves of the United States or the peasant serfs in France ('The French and the Comanches' in 'The Tramp Abroad')

    The point has been argued repeatedly concerning whether Twain was a racist or an abolitionist. In my opinion 'Huckleberry Finn' was a clear argument against slavery. I found Huck's preoccupation with morals concerning Jim's freedom a statement confirming the latter.

    Also in reference to 'Puddn'head Wilson', Twain makes it quite clear that when a slave child is switched with the master's child he becomes quite able to lead a life as any other educated child and/or adult.

    Now some could argue that Tom's (Tom in 'Puddn'head Wilson') far from good conduct is a statement by Twain concerning his color, and the white child who was morally good as yet another (hence the saying "a leopard can't change it's spots")... or it could be an example of monetary means and the spoilage of wealthy children. Who knows?

    Personally for myself, I tend to believe that Twain was far from racist and only wrote about things he perceived. However, my opinion may be bias since I am a huge fan! I don't believe people read Twain for the references to slavery, but for the entertainment value and clever wit in his writing.

    There are countless other known books that contain slavery. Try 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl' by Harriet Jacobs, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee, 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave' by Frederick Douglass.. just to name a few.
    Last edited by Mariamosis; 05-01-2009 at 11:43 AM.
    -Mariamosis

  4. #4
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    I have a simpler answer. He is American, and wrote about America in a time when American literature was in its grass roots, especially in prose. Therefore, every student in the United States studying American literature (which most, from my understanding do at the high school level) reads Twain as a foundation of the American tradition, and such, knows who he is.

    As for the theme of slavery and racial themes, it is ironic that most American school children (and many Canadian ones for that matter) read books that are perceived as anti-racist, and that supposedly speak out against such treatments, which is fine, except that when you consider this, it hardly really breaks away from anything. In truth, To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn could easily be replaced by works that are written by African-Americans, and people who had undergone such treatment, which would embrace the past and the tradition more, being rooted in the experience of the victim, rather than in the experience of the "innocent observer".

    In that sense, I think Huck Finn is America's way of creating a new bildungsroman that sideswipes an image of racist bigotry, and instead generates one of righteous white person, standing against racism.

    In that sense, the appeal can also be interpreted to perhaps a sense of release from the guilt of a dark and dirty past. The text reaffirms a sense of American innocence, where one, I would argue, really isn't warranted. The appeal then can be taken as a form of reaffirmation of the America as noble and just, which appeals to those who wish not to open up to the fact that perhaps the United States have never been, and perhaps still aren't what they claim on their money and in their pledges.

    Just my two cents worth. As for Twain, I don't think he was racist relative to the standards of his time, but then again, I haven't read all of his works. I am just of the mind that his appeal has to do primarily with his nationality, and his context, and very little with his prose.
    Last edited by JBI; 05-01-2009 at 12:21 PM.

  5. #5
    Literature Fiend Mariamosis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    In that sense, I think Huck Finn is America's way of creating a new bildungsroman that sideswipes an image of racist bigotry, and instead generates one of righteous white person, standing against racism.

    In that sense, the appeal can also be interpreted to perhaps a sense of release from the guilt of a dark and dirty past. The text reaffirms a sense of American innocence, where one, I would argue, really isn't warranted. The appeal then can be taken as a form of reaffirmation of the America as noble and just, which appeals to those who wish not to open up to the fact that perhaps the United States have never been, and perhaps still aren't what they claim on their money and in their pledges.
    A very good observation and one I have never considered!
    -Mariamosis

  6. #6
    I've always felt that it's something of a mistake to make out the Huck Finn story as being some great anti-racist manifesto. Why can't it just be an adventure story that accurately portrays the morals of the day in many regions of the US? Twain may have been making his own beliefs on slavery, and attitudes towards African-Americans, through Huck (in a coming of age kind of way), but I think they were much more nuanced than full blown. I've felt that way since my class read the story in Jr. High school.
    Certainly Twain was prolific, and wrote in many genres, for instance his piece on the disgrace that was the Belgian Congo, but even still, he probably held many of the more common prejudices of his day. Just as he likely recognized the inherent irony of one's own 'ideals' coming into conflict with society's beliefs, and that pretty much rings true in any era. He was trapped, as are we all, future generations will likely judge us as being quite primitive on a great many matters that we may consider ourselves just as sensitive.
    And, yeah, the fact that he's American puts him in practically all US schools. Not sure about other countries...

  7. #7
    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    he's funny

    mark twain's writings are a bit old, and his language is a bit different from current English, but he is still easy to read and understand (although, with his best work, close attention can bring even deeper understanding).

    for armchair intellectuals, Twain is often a pleasure to read. he's also a good choice for kids in high school English classes--he provides history, literary craft, and humor.

    to get an idea of how his humor resonates at least as much as his social commentary (in America), here's a link to some quotes you might like:

    http://www.basicjokes.com/dquotes.php?aid=91

    he's not ALWAYS joking around (and when he is, it's often cynical), but it's a major reason for his popularity.
    Last edited by billl; 05-02-2009 at 03:10 AM. Reason: not the best link

  8. #8
    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    a less humorous book about slavery...

    I think Twain is great, and his fiction addresses the horrible reality of slavery in a serious way, but a (much) less humorous book about slavery would be:

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
    by Frederick Douglass

    this book is a VERY popular choice in American high schools and universities, and it's NOT a work of fiction (like Huck Finn is). It is an autobiography. It's a short book, easy to read, and really fantastic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederi...#Autobiography

  9. #9
    I'm gonna be Bark Twain Bark's Avatar
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    Mark Twain hated only one race; The French!

  10. #10
    I'm gonna be Bark Twain Bark's Avatar
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    The reason Huck can't be seen as anything less than an attack on slavery, the reason it can not be seen as some historic snapshot, is because it does not show reality. Slavery was not just some job title. The science, not pseudo-science, but the science of the day was interesting. Blacks were supposed to have thicker skin which inhibits electrical current. A pulmonary apparatus similar to that of a beast, a slowed reflex that is indicative of stunted cerebral functions. The politicians made it an uplift. We all knew how great it was to be rich. 2% had done it. And pulling blacks out of backwards Africa was great. They HAD to be miserable anyways. The church taught Luke 12:47 like it was going out of fashion. Everyone knew that black was the fallen tribe of Israel.

    Huck didn't even know he could hurt Jim. That was the norm. Whites could torment blacks, and blacks would get the blame. Jim is accused of Huck's murthur. When Jim is recaught and Tom, Huck, Sid, whatever had to have their romantic escape, Jim was the crazy one.

    Jim is shown to be what blacks were known not to be. And as the novel progresses Huck gives hint after hint that Jim is turning white. The terms black and white being so loaded. Much like a Brits use of terms like Dutch luck and Dutch courage. It is the antithesis in language which creates the antipathy in life. Christians would do good works for other whites, but blacks were so far descended that it was useless to thin of them anyother way.

    Twain fought this, I think for the same reason I feel it is so sick, despite the fact that Exodus 20 is one of the most known chapters in the bible, the very next chapter, which issues laws regarding slavery is never studied. Opression is a lifestyle not an event. Even though today we associate the abolitionists with being good, they were markedly bad. Their laws were designed to free slaves and ship them out of the country, the idea being the debased blood would commingle with the pure anglo saxon.

    Twain had alot to do, and what he had Huck and Jim do is what Stowe spoke of. She said that the negro and the child are on par and will always get along. Twain was actually brainwashing little white children, with 'adventures' into believeing that blacks were really people.

  11. #11
    Writer & Podcaster FrankMarcopolos's Avatar
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    For me, Twain's humor is what shines through his works most. He makes it seem easy, but it is damn hard to write funny. And he's the master.
    FrankMarcopolos.com
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