I. THE CREATION OF MARK TWAIN
3 THE EAST AND THE MIDWEST
4 RIVERBOAT PILOT AND "SOLDIER"
6 SAN FRANCISCO
II. YEARS OF SUCCESS
2 THE EAST, AGAIN
3 THE INNOCENTS ABROAD
4 LIVY AND BUFFALO
5 ROUGHING IT
6 THE GILDED AGE
7 PRODUCTIVE SUMMERS
8 TOM SAWYER
9 A TRAMP ABROAD
10 THE PRINCE AND THE MISSISSIPPI
11 HUCKLEBERRY FINN AND A CONNECTICUT YANKEE
III. YEARS OF TROUBLE
1 EUROPE, AGAIN
2 FINANCIAL DISASTER AND TRAGEDY
4 LATE YEARS
5 LAST HONOUR
IV. MARK TWAIN - A RACIST WRITER ?
1 THE TASK
2 CHILD OF THE SOUTH
3 CHANGING VIEWS
4 THE KEY
5 HUCK AND JIM
6 HUCK'S LESSON
7 GOING TO HELL
8 WHY DID HUCK USE THE "N"WORD ?
9 THE END
MY FAVORITE MARK TWAIN QUOTES
III. Years of Trouble
1 Europe, again
With the typesetter and the publishing company both costing more and more, in June 1891, Twain moved his family to Europe in order to reduce expenses. They spent most of the 1890's in the Old World, Twain going back to the U. S. frequently to arrange his financial and literary affairs. The family lived in Berlin, Bad Nauheim and Florence, Twain constantly turning out books and new manuscripts.
The first of the works of that time was published in April 1894, Tom Sawyer Abroad. It was a sequel to Tom Sawyer, but it did not come close to the standards of its predecessor. Although critics were disappointed, the book sold rather well.
And so two years later, Twain published another Tom Sawyer-book, Tom Sawyer, Detective. Tom Sawyer, Abroad having been "a witty attempt at science fiction"51, dealing with Tom's, Huck's and Jim's ride of in a power drive balloon, Twain this time tried a new genre - a detective story, as the title suggests. Both of the books were mostly successful with boys and girls.
2 Financial disaster and Tragedy
Two days after Tom Sawyer Abroad had been published, Twain had to declare personal bankruptcy. The Paige typesetting machine had been pronounced a failure after its first real test, and even worse, the Webster Publishing Company had collapsed. Twain now had a personal debt of more than a hundred thousand dollars, and it took him a great deal of work to pay off all his creditors.
He immediately set out to earn money, doing what he could do best - writing and lecturing. Henry H. Rogers, one of the founders of Standard Oil, who had become a friend of Twain's, helped him to fight through his financial troubles to regain his solvency.
Of course, Twain was eager to bring out his next book quickly to make money. So in November 1894 The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson was published. The book told the story of the happenings in Dawson's Landing in the mind-1800s, a town similar to Hannibal. It was a dark story with a lot of cynicism in it, reflecting the troubles the author was going through.
In this book, too, Twain offensively attacked the slaveholding South. He judged a society that accepts slavery as being hopeless.52
Pudd'nhead Wilson is considered to be Mark Twain's most sophisticated book.53 It was published together with The Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins, a grotesque which formerly had been included in Pudd'nhead Wilson, but then had been turned into a story of its own by Twain.
In July 1895, at the age of sixty, Twain started out on a lecturing tip around the world, trying to pay off his debt. He spoke in the U. S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, captivating his audiences with his satiric humour.
The tour was a success, but it ended in tragedy. After he had arrived in London in August 1896, Twain received the devastating message that his favourite daughter Susy had died of meningitis. This was "a blow from which he never entirely recovered".54
In the same year, Twain published his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Going back into the distant past, Twain had to do a great deal of historical research to write an accurate account of the maiden's life. The book reflected his admiration for truth, integrity , innocence, and courage - values he saw lacking in his own world.55
But even with the income from this book, Twain was not able to pay all his creditors, and so he wrote a fifth travel book, about his lecturing tour in 1895/96. Following the Equator was a success when published in November 1897.
His effort to pay off his debt was given a wide public attention, and he was considered a hero when he made his final payments with Equator money in January 1898. He had managed to pull himself out of financial disaster. When he returned to the U. S. after an absence of five years in the fall of 1900, he had become a celebrity.
4 Late Years
During the last decade of his life, Twain came to enjoy his fame. He was honoured wherever he went for his humour and for his satire, but this did not restore his happiness. He wrote continually, but most of what he wrote was more personal therapy than literature - he tried to forget his sadness. Only some of this material was published.
In the fall of 1900, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg appeared, a short story, in which Twain attempted to demonstrate that there is no way of overcoming the basic elements of one's nature. It was a "powerful study of humanity's doom".56
Another book of that kind, The Mysterious Stranger, was not published until Twain's death.
During the year of 1902, Livy's health started to decline. In 1903, the family moved to Italy, because of the softer climate. But Livy did not recover, and on June 5, 1904, she died. Twain was in grief, and his two remaining daughters Jean and Clara were hospitalised for years to come.
In his last years, Twain dictated his autobiography to Albert Bigelow Paine. He did almost daily dictations of events and stories, and although his memory was not always accurate, Paine turned out a remarkable biography of Twain in 1924.
5 Last Honour
In 1907, Twain received a last great honour. He had already been honoured by Yale and the University of Missouri, but now Oxford awarded him the honorary doctorate, of which he was especially proud.
In June 1908, Twain moved into his last home - Stormfield, an Italian Villa in Redding, Connecticut. Jean eventually joined him there, after her sister had married a pianist and moved to Europe.
On Christmas Eve of 1909 she died. Beside his wife, Twain had lost the third of his four children. That was more than he could take. The day , she died, he wrote "my life is a bitterness".57 He did not have to endure this bitterness for a long time.
During the winter, his health declined rapidly, and on April 21, 1910, his relief came. Just as Halley's Comet flashed across the night skies, Mark Twain, true to his promises and predictions, died.
IV. Mark Twain - a Racist Writer ?
1 The Task
"Those who think that in... <his works> Mark Twain debases the blacks... have not read... <them> carefully."58
Mark Twain did not think that he had any race prejudices. Today, though, he is seriously accused by some of being a racist writer, whose books offend black readers.
I became aware of this criticism during my year in North Carolina, but I was never able then to find out the real arguments behind it. I noticed that Twain's works were removed from some bookshelves in libraries and schools, apparently because he had used the term "nigger" in them.
I was amazed, because I did not think that this alone would justify a censorship of this kind. And so when it came to select an aspect from Twain's life for this study, I set out to find an answer to my question "Was Mark Twain a racist writer?"
2 Child of the South
Samuel Langhorne Clemens grew up in Hannibal, a small Missouri town. His family owned slaves, as did many Southern families in that time. The whole social and economic structure was based on slavery, and no one in Hannibal "seemed conscious that slavery was a bald, grotesque, and unwarrantable assumption."59
There was a lot of brutality against black slaves, and young Clemens even witnessed fatal abuses. Although he was playmate to black children60 , and he later stated that he developed a "strong liking" for the black race during his childhood61 , his biographers agree that young Clemens did not question the institution of slavery.
As a child of the South, Twain began with many racial stereotypes in his mind, writing to his mother in 1855 that a "nigger" had a better chance than a white man in New York62 , and telling popular "nigger jokes" in the 1850's and 60's.63
Would this be the beginning of his career as a racist writer?
3 Changing Views
After Twain had left the South, he became aware of his attitudes towards slavery and the black race, and he began to change them. As a white, he felt indebted to the blacks64 , and so he helped to finance several black students through Law School. He read and lectured in black churches and befriended Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.
Even more than his actions, his writing showed that Twain, the native Southerner, had left the world of racial prejudices behind him and had become one of its harshest critics.
He wrote essays about atrocities committed against blacks, attacked plantation- and slave-owners in Life on the Mississippi, and made slavery Pudd'nhead Wilson's "constant theme"65 , picturing the hopelessness of a society that accepts this cruel institution.
Moreover, in A True Story, he presented for the first time in American literature a Negro "as heroine, sympathetic, flawed, and credible, rather than as a comic character or caricature."66
In this piece, Twain tried to capture blacks truly and sympathetically. He carefully listened to an old Negress and recorded her moving story. She told him about her hard life, and about the separation of her family at a slave auction. By writing her story down, Twain authentically pictured the brutalities of a slaveholding society.
All critics agree that he masterfully succeeded in recording "the best and realest kind of black talk."67 "In but a few pages, Twain tells us more about the Negro people, the true nature of slavery, the Civil War, the role of the Negro people in that conflict, than is achieved in many volumes."68
Published in 1874, A True Story foreshadowed Huckleberry Finn, in which Twain would give more attention to his sympathy for blacks and to the inhumanity of slavery.
4 The Key
To actually answer the question whether Mark Twain was a racist writer, one has to look at his best and most successful book - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Since its publication, this novel has provoked one of the most intense controversies in American literature, first on the grounds of coarseness and more recently on the grounds of racism.69
The long history of censorship of Huck Finn was started in 1885 by the public library committee of Concord, Massachussetts, which banned it from the bookshelves, because it saw it as "the veriest trash", "rough, coarse, and inelegant."70
In the twentieth century, the book has repeatedly been banned from libraries and schools, by the Board of Education of New York City in 1957 and by the Mark Twain Intermediate School, Fairfax County, Virginia in 1982, for example.71 Those decisions were based on the conviction that the book was racist.
How is it possible, then, that many critics adore Twain's novel, and Alfred Kazin even stated that here "for once, black and white actually love each other"72 ? The answer to this question will lead us to the key of the door to Twain's - existent or non-existent - world of racism.
5 Huck and Jim
Huck Finn told the story of the flight down the Mississippi of Huck, a white boy, and Jim, a runaway slave. In them, Twain created two of his best characters.
On the one hand, there was Huck, the young rebel who fled from his abusive father. Although rebellious, he did accept the institution of slavery, explained by Twain thus:
"In those slave-holding days the whole community was agreed as to one thing - the awful sacredness of slave property... It seemed natural enough to me... that Huck... should feel and approve it, though it seems now absurd. It shows that that strange thing, the conscience - that unerring monitor - can be trained to approve any wild thing you want it to approve if you begin its education early and stick to it."73
On the other hand, there was Jim, the slave who had run away from his master, because he feared to be sold down the river. It is out of question that Twain wanted his readers to feel sympathetic toward Jim.74 Being a copy of Uncle Dan'l, an old black on the farm of his uncle where Twain had spent part of his childhood, Jim's "unshakeable loyalty, generous heart, and unconscious dignity... raise him to the rank of Mark Twain's noblest creation."75
6 Huck's lesson
Just after the beginning of the book, Huck violated the moral code he had always taken for granted, helping Jim in his escape from slavery. Leo Marx called this identification with Jim's flight "an unforgettable moment in American experience."76
As their raft drifted down the river, Huck for a while continued to play mean tricks on Jim. But he gradually became aware of Jim as a human being, not just as a superstitious slave. He noticed that Jim had a lot of feelings, as he told the reader:
"He was thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn't ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n."77
His most important lesson Huck learned in chapter 15. He had pretended to have drowned and Jim had mourned him bitterly. Then Huck returned and one of the first things he did was to tease Jim about his superstitions. Being asked to interpret a pile of trash, the Negro answered:
"What do dey stan' for? I's gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz los', en I didn' k'yer no mo' what become er me en de raf'. En when I wake up en fine you back agin', all safe en soun', de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss' yo' foot I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin' `bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes `em ashamed."78
Huck was ashamed of himself and afterwards brought himself to "humble myself to a nigger"79. He never played anymore mean tricks on Jim.
7 Going to Hell
Jim and Huck had adopted a father - son relationship, but already in Chapter 16 it broke, since their raft was rammed by a steamboat and they were separated. It has been criticised that Twain did not give much attention to Jim in the following chapters80 , but already two chapters later he reappeared and the two run-offs were reunited.
In between, Huck witnessed the bloody feud between two Southern families, in which R. W. Stallman saw "the notion of race superiority, the whole code of white supremacy... revealed as romantic nonsense."81
Jim and Huck set forth their voyage, but Huck was often bothered by his conscience that told him that stealing someone else's property - the slave Jim - was an incorrect thing to do. Finally he decided to write a letter to Jim's owner, informing her of his whereabouts.
Having done so, he immediately felt relieved. But he could not bring himself to betray Jim and to mail the letter, and so he tore it up with the famous words "All right, then, I'll go to hell."82
8 Why did Huck use the "n"word ?
The most commonly criticised fact about Twain's novel is Huck's use of the term "nigger". It seems quite normal, though, that a boy raised in the South in the middle of the last century would use this word. It is clear, too, that Huck's experiences with Jim and his actions were contrary to the language he spoke.
Thus, Mark Twain created an ironic contrast between Huck's beliefs and his language. The best example for Twain's irony is Huck's dialogue with a white woman in chapter 32. Having come ashore, he reported from a steamboat explosion and so she asked:
"Good gracious! Anybody hurt?"
"No'm. Killed a nigger."
"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt."83
Blacks were not considered human beings in the beliefs of this society, and Huck quickly adopted to this outer world of racism again, but his inner world had been changed forever.
9 The End
Another critical debate was provoked by the end of Twain's novel. As Huck and Jim came ashore again, Jim was imprisoned. Tom Sawyer appeared, and he quickly became the central character.
Although Tom knew that Jim had been set free by his owner already, the two boys engaged in a long struggle to free Jim. He had to undergo humiliating, painful procedures, and in Leo Marx' words, Jim had been "made over in the image of a flat stereotype: the submissive stage-Negro."84
It can only be assumed what made Twain change the roles of his characters, but it is widely believed that he did not want to write a story too serious and so in the end tried to include comic elements.85
Harold Bloom also argued that Jim's loss of the father role symbolised Huck's growing-up - he lost his natural father in the end as well.
So it is obvious that there was no "invidious intent"86 behind Twain's degradation of Jim and Huck in the end of the novel.
I have not found any evidence that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a racist book. None of the critics whose books I have read has either, as a last glance on their judgements shows.
For A. Robert Lee, " the moral centre of Huckleberry Finn... inevitably... has to do with slavery... and... the ruling illusions of white racial ascendancy and Southern chivalry."87
Richard P. Adams believes that Twain's novel caused "the reader's awareness of the injustice, the hypocrisy, and the general moral ugliness and weakness of Southern society before the war."88
Finally, William M. Gibson draws the parallel to Twain's book and the protest of the treatment of Negro citizens in the middle 1880's.89 Twain joined this protest using slavery as a metaphor for the discrimination of the black race and the denial of civil rights to blacks.
Thus I find it hard to believe that Mark Twain, who fought against racial discrimination in his time, today is called a racist writer, his books being censored. He himself would probably not have believed it either...
"I am quite sure that I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no colour prejudices nor creed prejudices, indeed I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being - that is enough for me. He can't be any worse."90
1) Anderson, F. The Works of Mark Twain - Roughing It. Berkeley 1972.
2) Anderson, F. The Works of Mark Twain - Early Tales and Sketches, Vol. 1(1851-1864). Berkeley 1979.
3) Anderson, F. The Works of Mark Twain - Tom Sawyer. Berkeley 1980.
4) Bloom, H.(ed.). Mark Twain. New York 1986.
5) Breinig, H. Mark Twain. München 1985.
6) Budd, L.J. Critical Essays on Mark Twain, 1910-1980. Boston 1983.
7) Clemens, S.L. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York 1961.
8) Cummings, S. Mark Twain and Science. Baton Rouge 1988.
9) Emerson, E.H. The Authentic Mark Twain. Philadelphia 1984.
10) Gerber, J.C. Mark Twain. Boston 1988.
11) Gibson, W.M. The Art of Mark Twain. New York 1976.
12) Giddings, R.(ed.). Mark Twain: A Sumptuous Variety. London 1985.
13) Hill, H. Mark Twain: God's Fool. New York 1973.
14) Hoffman, A.J. Twain's heroes, Twain's worlds. Philadelphia 1988.
15) Jens, T. Mein Name sei Mark Twain, in GEO, Nr.10/85. Hamburg 1985.
16) Kaplan, J. Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. London 1967.
17) Lauber, J. The Making of Mark Twain. New York 1988.
18) Miller, R.K. Mark Twain. New York 1983.
19) Twain, M. Huckleberry Finn. Bindlach 1988.
20) Wilson, J.D. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Mark Twain. Boston 1987.
1835 Samuel Langhorne Clemens born, 30 November, in Florida, Missouri, to John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens.
1839 Family moves to Hannibal, Missouri, on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
1847 John Clemens dies, 24 March.
1848 Sam goes to work for Joseph P. Ament, Hannibal printer.
1851 "A Gallant Fireman," Clemen's first known sketch, published in his brother Orion's Western Union.
1852 "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter."
1853-1857 Printer in St. Louis; New York; Philadelphia; Keokuk, Iowa; and Cincinnati. Publishes three Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass letters in Keokuk Post in 1856.
1857-1861 Persuades Horace Bixby, senior pilot on the Paul Jones, to take him on as an apprentice pilot. Becomes a licensed pilot 9 April 1859. Leaves river when Union gunboats close it to commercial traffic.
1861-1862 June, "trains" for about two weeks with the Marion Rangers, Confederate volunteer group. Late July - early August, travels by stagecoach with brother Orion to Carson City, Nevada. Fails at staking timber claim and in prospecting for silver.
1862-1864 August 1862 - May 1864, reporter and free-lance writer on the staff of Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City).
3 February 1863, signs himself for the first time "Mark Twain" on a burlesque account of the doings of the Nevada legislature.
1864-1865 Local reporter for the San Francisco Morning Call. Contributes to such literary periodicals as the Golden Era and the Californian. "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog."
1866 Spends four months in Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) as correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Back in San Francisco, delivers first of many lectures on the Islands. December, sails for New York under contract to the San Francisco Alta Californian as roving correspondent.
1867 The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches. 8 June sails to Europe and Holy Land as newspaper correspondent on Quaker City. November, serves briefly in Washington, D.C., as secretary to Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada.
1868 Works on manuscript of The Innocents Abroad and lectures on The American Vandal Abroad.
1869 The Innocents Abroad. February, engaged to Olivia Langdon of Elmira, New York. Purchases partnership in Buffalo Express with help of loan from Jervis Langdon, Olivia's father. Lectures under the management of James Redpath.
1870 Marries Olivia on 2 February. Writes for Buffalo Express and New York Galaxy. First child and only son, Langdon Clemens, prematurely born 7 November.
1871 Family rents Hooker house in Nook Farm area of Hartford, Connecticut.
1872 Roughing It. Susan Olivia Clemens (Susy) born 19 March. June, Langdon dies.
1873 The Gilded Age, in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner. Clemens family to Europe for first of several visits there.
1874 June, daughter Clara born. Late September, family moves into new house in Nook Farm area of Hartford.
1875 Old Time on the Mississippi serialized in Atlantic Monthly; Sketches, New and Old.
1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
1877 A True Story and the Recent Carnival of Crime. 7 May, Ah Sin, a play, written in collaboration with Bret Harte, opens in Washington.
1878-1879 Travels with family in Europe. Takes walking trip with the Reverend Joseph Twichell in Germany and Switzerland.
1880 A Tramp Abroad. Daughter Jean born 26 July. Begins investing in the Paige typesetting machine.
1882 The Prince and The Pauper. The Stolen White Elephant. April-May boat trip on the Mississippi.
1883 Life on the Mississippi.
1884 Campaigns for Grover Cleveland. November 1884 to February 1885, reading tour with George Washington Cable.
1885 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
1891 Family to Europe, where they live for most of the 1890s.
1894 Tom Sawyer Abroad. The Tragedy of Pudd`nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins. April, Twain's publishing house declares itself bankrupt. Meets H. H. Rogers, vice president of Standard Oil, who over the next four years helps him regain his solvency.
1895-1896 Lecture trip around the world to raise funds to repay creditors.
1896 Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc; Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Other Stories. Susy Clemens dies of meningitis, 18 August.
1897 How to Tell a Story and Other Essays; Following the Equator.
1900 The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays. Returns to America to a national welcome.
1901 Litt. D. degree from Yale.
1902 LL. D. degree from University of Missouri.
1903 Takes a villa in Florence for Mrs. Clemens's health.
1904 Mrs. Clemens dies, 5 June.
1907 Litt. D. degree from Oxford.
1908 Moves to Stormfield, Redding, Connecticut.
1909 Clara marries Ossip Gabrilowitsch, pianist and conductor. Jean Clemens dies, 23 December.
1910 Mark Twain dies, 21 April, and is buried at Elmira, New York.
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Hello, I've just started reading your essay on Mark Twain. Did you write it or was it some-thing you read? I ask that because it is very perceptive. Most AMERICANS (and I'm one) couldn't write so well about our greatest author. I'll read the whole thing very soon and let you know more of what I think about it. Best regards, Fred Wemyss Huntington, New York Fredwemyss@sprintmail.com
Hi, I tried to submit a comment about your essay on Mark Twain, but I think it did not work. So, I'm sending email. Your essay is very perceptive. You write very well. While Twain was not America's most profound writer (that's Melville, in my opinion), he is the on who comes closest to capturing the American spirit. Keep writing! Fred Wemyss Fredwemyss@sprintmail.com
My Favorite Mark Twain Quotes
„Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.“
„The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.“
„It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.“
„It is noble to be good; it is still nobler to teach others to be good - and less trouble.“
„I have no colour prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.“
„The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.“
„Let your secret sympathies and your compassion be always with the under dog in the fight - this is magnanimity; but bet on the other one - this is business.“
„Man will do many things to get himself loved; he will do all things to get himself envied.“