The story of a Boy, and the world that changes him

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

As the sun shines through the windows on the first day of class, who could could stop their mind from wandering.  Wouldn’t it be nice to escape into the very book that the class is currently slaving over?

It is, of course, none other than the boyish Mark Twain novel, Tom Sawyer.   It seems nice enough.  A young, crafty boy whose life is full of wilderness, and adventure.  I wonder if the author himself ever felt that way.

Mark Twain grew up in Missouri, which was then the great frontier.  It was literally the border between the colonized society, and the uncharted wilderness.  As he grew, however, so did the country, charted, colonizing, and industrializing much of the natural setting.   Twain hoped back in forth from city to country and, as can be seen in his biography, from job to job.  This makes him uniquely qualified to critic both, and he seems to have reached a decision:

“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

Twain has many quotes about nature, all of which follow the general theme that men (or mankind) taints it.   This incredible faith in nature, and in animals, is not completely his own, however.  Twain’s mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, is said to have passed her love of animals on to him, according to his biographer Edward Wagenknecht.  She used to feed all the stray cats in the neighborhood, however she could keep no birds because “she could not endure to think of any creature deprived of its freedom.” (click here for full text).  It is clear that Twain grew up, inspired by this love of animals, and of the wild.  He gravitated towards his mother’s care, and away from his father’s puritanical, stern treatment.  He holds nature and animals most dear to his heart, loving most the jobs in which he could live amongst it, such as his bout as a pilot on the great, flowing Mississippi river.  For him nature has the home he never had, bouncing around form place to place, hoping not to get stuck on his father’s bad side. He says of his fellow humans “Man is the only animal that blushes. He is the only one that does if and has occasion to.”  Twain clearly sees himself as an animal, as part of nature, though society tries to rise above it.  Maybe Tom Sawyer uses nature to escape because Twain always wished he could.

The world of Cardiff Hill and Twainville begin to collide as young man’s attempt to teach his generation a lesson.  He says of the book:

“In writing Tom Sawyer I had no idea of laying down rules for the bringing up of small families, but merely to throw out hints as to how they might bring themselves up, and the boys seemed to have caught the idea nicely.”   – Mark Twain Speech in 1893.

It seems that to Twain, as well as to many others, the world of Tom Sawyer is fascinating, inspiring, and almost idyllic.  It is a world in which the wild of nature is always available, and yet the controlled is present, and safe.  To Twain, it is how every young boy should grow up.


The man behind the mysterious Mark Twain

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

As previously stated in almost all of the blogs, Samuel Clemens’ childhood was very similar to Tom Sawyer’s. Both were adventurous kids who were very independent at a young age. They grew up in very similar towns in the south and just as Tom Sawyer didn’t have his parents around as a kid, Samuel’s father died when he was only 11 from pneumonia. From that age, Samuel had to stop his schooling and work.

After his Tom Sawyer like childhood, he went on to do many things. One of which, and a very important one at that, was learning how to grow a ridiculously good looking mustache to go along with having a sweet middle name (Langhorne). Samuel was both an author of many books and a philosopher. He has endless quotes relating to life and human nature.

When it came to nature, Clemens thought very highly of it and believed it was more beautiful than anything man could create. “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.” (From Mark Twain’s Journal). His love for nature is clear in Adventures of Tom Sawyer, as Tom is constantly away from the civil world and entrenched in the primal, natural one.

Nature in Twain’s Life

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is evident in Twain’s writing that he himself has a close relationship with nature. Similar to in Tom’s life, nature played a large role in Twain’s own life. The way he describes Tom’s control over nature, lack of control over nature and empowerment from nature are all taken from personal experiences.

As mentioned in pervious posts, it is fascinating to note that Mark Twain was the pen name chosen by Samuel Clemens. Mark Twain means “mark number two“, which signified the safe river depth for steam boats. The fact that he chose the name to be remembered by based on nature further demonstrates his relationship with it. He wants to always associate himself with nature.

At the age of twenty three, Twain became a steam boat pilot along the Mississippi river. As a boat pilot you work with nature daily in order to travel and deliver your goods. Twain later wrote about his experiences learning the river in “Life On the Mississippi“. This experience taught Twain not only how to conquer nature, but also how to work with it and learn from it.

It is interesting to read in the posts above that many people believe Tom Sawyer, to be partly an autobiography. I have to agree somewhat with what my peers have written because while every experience is not directly taken from his childhood, the essence and emotions are all ones Twain is familiar with. In some ways, I believe that Twain wrote Tom’s life to be what he wished his own had been. Twain’s father died when Twain was young and therefore forced him to mature quickly. Rather than playing with friends, Twain was forced to work at a young age. This is quite different from the adventurous and childish life Tom lead and is a reflection of Twain’s desires as a child.

New York Times and Twain

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

In searching for a news article, I stumbled upon a little website that had every article written by The New York Times on Mark Twain from 1867-1970. I thought this to be an interesting website, and so I am highlighting some original articles that I have seen others write about. (This site also contains a few articles such as “Soviet prefaces to HUCK FINN and TOM SAWYER,” “Mark Twain’s Burglar
Now a Devoted Reader of Man He Robbed,
” and “Mark Twain in Milk Products Company“)

On the topic of where Samuel Clemens got his written name from, I found this article. I am not sure if I can believe that he just stole it from a dead boat captain who used to write articles for a newspaper, but it was published in New York Times (along with other proof), so it must be true right?

While searching for an article about his death (I promptly found at 11 in the same month related to his death), I found this article, a long winded explanation of his death, but also a memoir. After scanning through I came across a quote (I will include at the end), or rather a story about him as a child of 13. This story shows the fun, comical side of Mark Twain. There is obvious mischievousness, and it is possible that this is where some of his character developed came from. It seems to me that this playing with peoples reactions has a close link to part of the playful trickster character we see in Tom Sawyer. I think this website is great for some original research.

The story:

“I was a very smart child at the age of 13 – an unusually smart child, I thought at the time. It was then that I did my first newspaper scribbling, and most unexpectedly to me, it stirred up a fine sensation in the community. It did, indeed, and I was very proud of it, too. I was a “devil” in a printing office, and a progressive and aspiring one. My uncle had me on his paper, (the Weekly Hannibal Journal, $2 a year, in advance – 500 subscribers, and they paid in cordwood, cabbages, and unmarketable turnips,) and on a lucky Summer day he left town to be gone a week, and asked me if I thought I could edit one issue of the paper judiciously. Ah, didn’t I want to try! Higgins was the editor on the rival paper. He had been jilted, and one night a friend found an open note on the poor fellow’s bed, in which he stated that he could no longer endure life and had drowned himself in Bear Creek.

“The friend ran down there and found Higgins wading back to shore. He had concluded he wouldn’t. The village was full of it for a few days, but Higgins did not suspect it. I thought this was a fine opportunity. I wrote an elaborately wretched account of the whole matter and then illustrated it with villainous cuts engraved on the bottoms of wood type with a jacknife – one of them a picture of Higgins wading out into the creek in his shirt, with a lantern, sounding the depth of the water with a walking stick.

“Next I gently touched up the newest stranger – the lion of the day, the gorgeous journeyman tailor from Quincy. He was a simpering coxcomb of the first water, and the “loudest” dressed man in the State. he was an inveterate woman killer. Every week he wrote lushy ‘poetry’ for The Journal about his newest conquest. His rhymes for my week were headed, ‘To Mary in H__l,’ meaning to Mary in Hannibal, of course. But while setting up the piece I was suddenly riven from head to heel with what I regarded as a perfect thunderbolt of humor, and I compressed it into a snappy footnote at the bottom, thus:

” ‘We will let this thing pass, just this once, but we wish Mr. J. Gordon Runnels to understand distinctly that we have a character to sustain, and from this time forth when he wants to commune with is friends in h__l, he must select some other medium than the columns of this journal.’ “

“The paper came out, and I never knew any little thing to attract so much attention as those playful trifles of mine. For once the Hannibal Journal was in demand – a novelty it had not experienced before. The whole town was stirred. Higgins dropped in with a double-barreled shotgun early in the forenoon. When he found that I was an infant (as he called me) that had done him the damage, he simply pulled my ears and went away, but he threw up the situation that night and left town.”

The Man Behind the Legend

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, is one of the most prolific authors in American history, but if you asked Americans about his life outside of his writings, most of them would probably not know much at all.  Upon reading many of the other posts already written, especially Matthew’s post, that all effectively analyze and summarize the life of Mark Twain, I got to looking for the some of the more specific, finer connections that exist in Clemens’ works, and eventually I stumbled across some extraordinary things.

Using this site, I discovered the origins of not only Twain himself, but also Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.  It’s incredible to see the very households that inspired the legendary characters of some of Twain’s most famous works, with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer being one of them.  After reading other posts, one of which being Tom Sawyer: An Autobiography?, the connections between Twain’s own life and the contents of his works were stronger than ever.  This is aptly demonstrated by the recent discovery (just months ago) of an unpublished manuscript, titled A Family Sketch.  Written by Clements following the death of his daughter Olivia Susan Clemens, or Susy, who was 24 at the time, this unpublished manuscript is a perfect, and certainly not the only, example of how Clements bonded occurrences in his own life to his writing.  The manuscript was 64 pages long and “goes beyond Twain’s portrayal of his beloved daughter and gives other details of their family life.” The author of the news article, Ed Pilkington, also perfectly captures Twain’s portrayals of his family in his literature later in the article when he writes that author “Laura Skandera Trombley describes Susy as her father’s second muse following his wife Olivia. She is considered the inspiration for the novel Joan of Arc and a story, A Horse’s Tale.” Susy also followed in the footsteps of her father, as at the tender age of “13, she wrote a biography of her father, which was published as Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain.”

These articles and writings have been very informative and eye opening.  After examining not only my classmates’ research but also my own, I now realize how much a reader can learn about Clements from just his literary works alone: he has instilled his most private thoughts and life events into his novels.  By doing that, his life story and his mind will live forever.

Twain the Tinkler

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Whether you know him as Clemens, Snodgrass or by his better-known moniker of Twain the famed “father of American Literature” was not only a brilliant writer and humorist but also a skilled inventor with

a passion for science!

Because of his distaste for uncomfortable suspenders Twain developed an adjustable strap that tightened shirts at the waist. This invention was also used to adjust corsets and other undergarments and was patented on December 19th, 1871. Twain’s second patent came in 1873 for self-adhesive scrapbooks. This invention was very successful. By 1901, over 57 different varieties of his albums were available. Twain’s final patent was issued in 1885 for a history trivia game.

Twain’s interest in science and inventing was further sparked by the development of a friendship with engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla. The two toyed in Tesla’s lab and remained friends until Twain’s death.  Despite Tesla’s conflict with Edison, Twain also formed a relationship with this famous inventor. Edison even paid Twain a visit and recorded footage for the 1909 short film of The Prince and the Pauper.

Twain even melded his love of science and literature in his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which featured a time traveling American and served as inspiration other sci-fi alternate history story-lines.

Take a look at the Disney adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper featuring Cole and or Dylan Sprouse of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody!

Mark Twain: Life and Quotes

August 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

With so much already written about Mark Twain’s life and how he uses/brings personal experience to his characters and novels by my peers (these are just two examples, more can be viewed here), I thought that I would look at his relationship to Tom Sawyer in a slightly different way, through the use of his quotes.

It would make sense that Twain’s quotes would reflect the ideas that he presents in his books, as quoting and writing are both ways of getting a point across, but out of the sea of quotes found here and here there are many that can be directly applied to Tom Sawyer.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Matt already discussed Twain’s view of adventure, and I thought that this quote backed up that point very well.  Twain thought that it was important to “explore,” “dream,” and “discover” and you can see that he used these qualities in creating the “troublesome boys” (as we so aptly put it in class) of St. Petersburg.

“The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.”

“There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.”

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.”

These quotes also show Twain’s view on children and how he thought that they acted (and should act).  I especially like the third one because often it seems that Tom made himself believe or remember something when he had to.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

“No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.”

“Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.”

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

These four quotes could basically dictate how Tom lives his life in this novel.  His views towards school, church (where he can easily be distracted after a while), his values (like cleanliness or education), and the thin line that turns whitewashing from work to play.

“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”

“A sin takes on a new and real terror when there seems a chance that it is going to be found out.”

“The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right.”

The first of these last three quotes relates directly to what we were talking about in class.  It would appear that Twain believes man is animal, but the most cruel because (as he has Tom demonstrate with the tick) they can gain pleasure from causing pain.  The second quote I thought related to Injun Joe, and how to him it was no big deal that he killed the doctor, but he was quick to make sure that it was covered up.  The final quote I thought might reflect some of the relationships between the children in St. Petersberg, but it might be a stretch.

Quotes are an easy way to look into someone’s life and learn about his/her values.  I think that it can clearly be seen that Twain wanted to instill those values into Tom Sawyer.

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