IV.4.Mark Twain (1835-1910) Focus of Study Life Experience Literary Career Point of View Writing Style Major works
Life Experience and Literary Career 1835 Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born prematurely in Florida, Missouri. 1839 The family moved to Hannibal, Missouri. 1847 The death of his father forced him to leave school and took up various odd jobs. His carefree childhood made him acquainted with the colorful life on Mississippi and developed sympathy with the lower class people.
The Boy's Life of Mark Twain In 1856-1861, he became a steam-boat pilot—the unforgettable experience provided rich material for his best works. 1865 "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" was published, and brought him recognition. 1866 He was sent to Hawaii as a correspondent. He wrote travel letters, and lectured on his experiences when he returned to California.
1867 He traveled through Europe and the Holy Land, sending travel letters back. 1869 His first book, "The Innocents Abroad." Engaged to Olivia Langdon, married in 1870. 1873 "The Guilded Age" 1876 "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" 1878 He traveled through Europe with his family. 1882 "The Prince and the Pauper“ 1883 "Life on the Mississippi“
1885 "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" 1889 "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court” 1894 "Pudd'n head Wilson" 1895 He filed for bankruptcy. His daughter, Susy, died. 1896 "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" 1897 "Following the Equator” 1900 "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” 1901 Received a Yale honorary doctorate 1902 an honorary Missouri doctorate 1904 His wife, Olivia, died in Florence on June 5, and he returned to New York. 1906 "What is Man" 1907 received an Oxford honorary degree. 1909 His daughter, Jean died 1910 He died on April 21.
Point of View His humor pierced rotten conventions, pretense and hypocrisy. It mocked the tyrannies of chivalry, of slavery, and of religion. His works glorified goodness, wisdom and worth of common people. He developed such American themes as escape from society, individualism, brotherhood, and love of adventure.
His works bear an enormous moral force. His literature explored questions of freedom, independence, and identity.
Writing Style Vernacular Language: He used vernacular to show his contempt for the "civilized" society. He never used elegant words and expressions except for mocking purpose. His language is simple, informal, bold and crackles with jokes and witty humor. His characterization is vivid. His satire is full of philosophical insight.
Major works The Gilded Age tried to describe the new morality (or immorality) of post-Civil War America. Its theme is America's loss of its old idealism due to the society’s madness in pursuing money. It describes how a group of young people is morally destroyed by the dream of becoming rich. The ideal of common man was trampled and man's worth is judged in money. The Gilded Age ridiculing Washington D.C. and many of the leading figures of the day
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a story about "bad boys” fighting against the stupidity of the adult world, a popular theme in American literature. Twain studies the psychology of his characters carefully. Tom is very romantic. He can always return to Aunt Polly's house while Huck has no real home. In the end, we can see Tom growing up--he will be a part of the adult world while Huck is left a real outsider. Illustration from Tom Sawyer
“The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg” The theme: every man in the United States is corrupt so far as the dollar is concerned. The moral of the demonstration is that the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire." It is a sharp satire of man's frailty under the pressure of money-temptation.
Focus Study on Huck Finn 1. Plot Study 2. Thematic Study This novel wrote about both the experiences of westward expansion and of southern slavery. It deals with many themes: the quest for freedom, the transition from adolescence into adulthood, alienation, criticism of pre-Civil War southern life. The main theme is Huck's search for personal liberation, for the freedom based upon his maturity and his longing to be his own master. The Adventures of Huck Finn
It shows Twain’s satire on southern culture before the Civil War around 1850. A.Twain showed how these no-count whites thought they were better than black slaves. B.Satire on the genteel upper- class southerners. They lived a very aristocratic life which is full of violence and stupidity. C.The violence on which southern culture rests is a pretence or illusion to disguise the cowardliness of the people and their refusal to act as individuals. The Adventures of Huck Finn
3. Character Study: similarities and differences between Tom and Huck. The interest in Huck's character lies in the constant conflict between moral conscience and respect for law on one side and his sympathy for the victims of society and his love for romantic adventure on the other. The book ends up with Huck's decision to save Jim, even if it means going to hell. The book is a veritable recreation of living models. Views on Mississippi
4. Structure and Language: The novel follows the tradition of picaresque fiction. Mississippi River— a symbol of human journey. The departures from and returns to the river result finally in his manhood. A remarkable achievement of the book is Clemens' use of American humor, folklore, slang, and dialects. Widely praised for its language.
Significance Beginning as a local colorist, Twain wrote fiction which has become part of the American cultural tradition. Combining American frontier humor and serious storytelling conventions with his journalistic style, he produced a body of work of enduring value. His writing gives readers a clear sense of life in the prewar Mississippi Valley. He initiated the vernacular tradition of American fiction. He maintained his magic power with language.
Study Questions 1. How does Tom grow in the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? 2. How do you understand at the end of the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is determined to save Jim even it means “to go to the hell” ? 3. Please make a comparison between the character of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 4. Elaborate on Mark Twain’s greatness in the use of language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Reference McMichael, George, Anthology of American Literature, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York Voto, Bernard A. Mark Twain at Work. Harvard University Press (1942) Shoane, David E. E. Mark Twain as a Literary Comedian Gibson, William M. The Art of Mark Twain Yang Qishen(1984) Selected Readings in American Literature, Shanghai Translation Press Chang Yuexin(1990) A Survey of American Literature, Nankai University Press Wu Weiren (1990) History and Anthology of American Literature Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press
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