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Understanding Mark Twain: Mark Twain’s Novels. At my blog,, I post Twain related articles and photos that showcase his time.

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Presentation on theme: "Understanding Mark Twain: Mark Twain’s Novels. At my blog,, I post Twain related articles and photos that showcase his time."— Presentation transcript:

1 Understanding Mark Twain: Mark Twain’s Novels

2 At my blog,, I post Twain related articles and photos that showcase his time in Redding, One day, after a post about one of the Centennial Celebrations we were having to commemorate his life in Redding, I received the following comment/rant…

3 “Mark Twain is the kind of boring writer that my teachers tried to push down my throat in Middle School and High School. If there is any way to learn about the way people lived back then, reading Twain is not it. If there’s a literary icon or role model for the 19 th century, Mark Twain is not the one.” “His scatterbrained stories have no meaning or reason behind them. He simply wrote for the sake of writing…”

4 The remarks echoed those made by Danbury CT’s High School English Department Chairman last year in the Danbury News-Times: “His [Twain’s] influence is waning. It’s a lot more difficult to get kids interested in his writings. Sometimes, it’s because it’s more satirical and less blunt humor than they hear today.”

5 The issue here is real- teachers & students don’t get Twain because they don’t know Twain. After a great deal of thought & discussion with others, I concluded that we may be teaching Twain wrong. What if kids got to know Twain first? Maybe if they better understood his life experiences, they’d understand why he wrote what he wrote and want to read his works.

6 Here is a preview of my solution to this issue, and what I’d like to present to classrooms across America.

7 Hello…my name is Samuel L. Clemens. A.K.A. Mark Twain!

8 “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet.” -Mark Twain, a Biography In 1910, Halley’s Comet reached perihelion on April 20 th and Mark Twain died on the 21 st.

9 Born: 11/30/1835 Died: 04/21/1910 Halley’s Comet Florida, Missouri Redding, Connecticut

10 Sure… You could call me “Rags to Riches”

11 Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born in this cabin in the small frontier settlement of Florida, Missouri.

12 Interior of Florida, Missouri home

13 He was born two months premature, on November 30 th 1835. The sixth child of John and Jane Clemens. Premature babies at that time period did not usually survive. The frontier was a harsh environment and children routinely died from diseases such as measles, smallpox, scarlet fever and malaria.

14 “When I first saw him I could see no promise in him.” Jane Clemens, his mother.

15 Sam survived, but would spent a good amount of his first four years of life in bed. There he would absorb and retain many of the sounds and voices that surrounded him. Hearing is believed to develop very quickly in premature babies and Sam would exhibit an unusual ability to retain the sounds he heard around him in his younger years, especially, the dialects of speech.

16 “He never stopped performing the earliest songs and spirituals he heard, and as a mature writer he could reproduce entire blocks of spoken conversation.” “His capacity to transform commonplace spoken language into literature, like any artist’s gift, remains beyond understanding.” -Ron Powers, Mark Twain, a Life

17 Other Talented Premature Babies: Pablo Picasso Isaac Newton Albert Einstein Charles Darwin Renoir John Keats Franklin Roosevelt Stevie Wonder

18 Many, if not all, of Mark Twain novels and stories were directly tied to his life experiences. His earliest life experiences, specifically his exposure to slaves and slavery, are brought to life in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In many ways Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is autobiographical.

19 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Although the Missouri he grew up in never joined the Confederacy, it was a world in which slavery was accepted and practiced by most white families… Sam's parents owned slaves, his Uncle John did too. In fact, slavery was defended by all of Missouri’s public institutions, including the churches.

20 Understanding Huckleberry Finn In Twain’s Notebook #35 he writes: “In those slave-holding days the whole community was agreed as to one thing- the awful sacredness of slave property.” “It shows that that strange thing, the conscience - the unerring monitor - can be trained to approve any wild thing you want it to approve if you begin its education early & stick to it.”

21 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Unlike many Missourians, Twain left Missouri in his teens and traveled to several Northern States that frowned upon Slavery and the hatred that fueled it.

22 Sam’s teenage travels… 2,000+ miles

23 Understanding Huckleberry Finn As he matured, he came to realize the wrongs that he had unknowingly been a part of and through his writings he exposed the wrongs that he had seen committed.

24 Understanding Huckleberry Finn In Following the Equator, he says: “When I was ten years old I saw a man fling a lump of iron-ore at a slave-man in anger, for merely doing something awkwardly- as if that were a crime. It bounded from the man’s skull, and the man fell and never spoke again. He was dead in an hour… Nobody in the village approved of that murder, but of course no one said much about it.” (Chapter 38)

25 Understanding Huckleberry Finn His association with Slavery left him with a legacy of guilt, guilt that he tried to lessen through acts of charity. He donated money and made special appearances at fundraising events for numerous African American Churches, Institutes, and Associations. He also supported individuals.

26 Understanding Huckleberry Finn In 1885, the year Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was released, he anonymously paid the tuition for Warner T. McGuinn, a struggling African American law student at Yale Law School. In a letter to Yale’s Law School Dean, he noted: “We have ground the manhood out of them, & the shame is ours, not theirs, & we should pay for it.”

27 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is powerful because of it’s realism. The situations, the topics, the conversations, and the dialects he uses in those conversations all come from Twain’s unique life experiences. Jim’s words and the way he speaks are all tied to Twain’s childhood…

28 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Ron Powers, Mark Twain, a Life “He heard his first slave voices before the age of four, and sought them out through the rest of his childhood and beyond.” “…no human voices, save his own mother’s, caught his imagination quite like those of the Negro slaves…”

29 Understanding Huckleberry Finn “Those voices spoke in a way different from the people in his family: quick, delicious, throbbing with urgencies half-named, half-encoded. They conjured mind-pictures: lightning bolts, apparitions from the spirit world, chariots swooping down from heaven… the slave voices treated language as a cherished creature, to be passed around, partaken of…”

30 Understanding Huckleberry Finn One of the slave voices that influenced Sam’s life was a middle aged slave known to him as “Uncle Dan’l” He’d later recall the “privileged nights” he, his cousins & the slave children clustered at Dan’l’s feet to hear him tell his thunderous stories.

31 Understanding Huckleberry Finn “He has served me well, these many, many years…spiritually I have had his welcome company… & have staged him in books as his own name and as “Jim”… It was on the farm that I got my strong liking for his race and my appreciation of… its fine qualities.”

32 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took Twain 8 years to write. Between manuscript 1 and 2, he made more than 1,700 revisions. 88 percent of these revisions being: word changes, spelling, punctuation and adding emphasis. He used the words he used for a reason. The “N-Word” appears 219 times in the novel and its usage is deliberate.

33 "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." -Mark Twain

34 Understanding Huckleberry Finn The “N-Word” appears 219 times for two reasons. 1. Its usage is historically correct. That is how white people referred to African- Americans in that time period. 2. It shows/screams at us how wrong and hurtful that mindset was.

35 Understanding Huckleberry Finn As the novel progresses, Huck matures and realizes the wrongs of the slavery society he’s grown up in; much like Twain himself did. Huck’s decision to reject that society’s values and “go to Hell,” rather than betray his friend Jim is one of the novel’s most powerful moments.

36 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Huck discovers "you can't pray a lie" and that helping Jim is the right thing to do -- even if society's most pious and learned insist that aiding a runaway is perverted and wicked.

37 Understanding Huckleberry Finn Twain once described the novel as: "a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers a defeat." He also once said: “My books are simply autobiographies” and in many ways Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is just that…

38 In summary… I am not a Racist.

39 Now… back to my life story.

40 Many of Twain’s characters, including Huckleberry Finn, were a product of his childhood experiences in Hannibal.

41 Sam’s family moved to nearby Hannibal, Missouri in 1839, where he’d enjoy his boyhood in the presence of the broad Mississippi River.

42 Location, Location, Location Hannibal was the center of America at a time when America was making the transition from East to West. Sam had a very unique, front row seat to civilization… Immigrants, Merchants, Speculators, Gamblers, Thieves, Politicians, Preachers, Runaways & Indians… he saw it all on the river front and he soaked it all in.

43 United States in 1835 The Great Frontier The West is largely unsettled by Americans.

44 Location, Location, Location Because of Hannibal’s River-side location and America’s Westward expansion, Sam would experience a very diverse group of individuals or as Ron Powers’ notes in Mark Twain, a Life: “…a continuing vaudeville of floating humanity.”

45 “When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before--met him on the river.” - Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

46 Location, Location, Location The education that Sam would receive in Hannibal from the age of four to the age of seventeen would come through loud and clear in his novels: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

47 From here I would go on to describe his childhood, education, teenage travels, etc… Feedback is welcomed, please e-mail me at:

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