Mark Twain: Man of Many Tales

Mark Twain, the father of American literature, was a prominent figure in the writing world. He used realism in his works and created American based tales drawn from his own life and experiences. It can also be said that Twain was a humorist. Some may ask why is Mark Twain considered to be the father of American Literature? The only way to answer this question is to analyze Mark Twain, his life, and his works. Before Mark Twain became a brilliant and successful writer he was just a small town boy born in Missouri. He was born in a town called Florida on November 30, 1835. When he was young, his family moved to Hannibel, Missouri. Mark Twain grew up in the time of slavery and later incorporated his experience with it into his novels. Ever since Twain was a little boy he always loved to write. At the young age of twelve he became an apprentice in a printing shop. As years past on Mark Twain traveled frequently. He wanted to peruse his childhood dream of becoming a river pilot. When the Civil War came upon America his dream was quickly over. He returned to Hannibel and decided to enlist as a confederate solider.

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No matter how many dreams he skimmed through he always seemed to end up with a pen in his hand and paper to write on. In 1863, he published his first work called Innocents Abroad. His book was criticized harshly. Many critics did not want Mark Twain to pursue a career because they thought he wasn’t a good enough writer. After a few more years of traveling and trying to pursue a writing career, he met and married Olivia Langdon whom he had three children with. When his son died, Mark Twain fell into a depression. He often blamed himself at times for his son’s death. After his son’s death he published other works that were not so successful. When Mark Twain reached his middle age he started to become very successful in his writing. He published some of American Literatures’ greatest works such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Prince and the Pauper.

The works that Mark Twain wrote in his middle age years are said to be the reason why he is considered to be the father of American Literature. Some considered him to be the father of American literature based on his representation of American life, social observations and the political issues that were happening in America. Others argue that his technique of realism helped him achieve the title of being the father of American literature. He was the first of authors to write in the vernacular, which is simple, everyday language. He was an opponent of slavery and often combined humor with scathing social commentary.” Mark Twain himself claimed, “I am not an American, I am the American.”

Throughout Mark Twains writing career he became very successful. He wrote many books that today are American Literature staples. The Prince and the Pauper was published in 1882. This story tells about two young boys, similar is appearance but born on opposite sides of the social-economic spectrum. One is a Prince while the other is very poor. As they switch places, they both change. The pauper wishes to return back to the slums and the Prince becomes more compassionate. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in January 1885. It tells the story of a boy named Huck and a slave named Jim. Huck meets Jim on an Island while escaping his father and decides to help free Jim from slavery. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer tells the tale of two young boys who become friends and witness a murder. Despite an agreement to keep the murder a secret, Tom discloses the murderer. The murderer manages to get away and begins a small adventure for the boys. In the end, the boys walk away with Gold.

In most of his works the most evident form of writing he uses is realism. Realism in literary works represents the reality of the story. According to The Bedford Anthology of American Literature, “Realism sets itself at work to consider characters and events which are apparently the most ordinary an uninteresting, in order to extract from these their full value and true meaning. It would apprehend in all particulars the connection between familiar and the extraordinary, and the scene and the unseen of human nature. Beneath the deceptive cloak of outwardly uneventful days, it detects and endeavors to trace the outlines of the spirits that are hidden there, to measure the changes in their growth, to watch then symptoms of moral decay or regeneration, to fathom their histories of passionate or intellectual problems. In short, realism reveals. Where we thought nothing worthy of notice, it shows everything to be rife with significance.” (Pg.33)

Through times of hardships and doubt Mark Twain never gave up on his goal to becoming a successful writer. Many writers often have inspiration that makes them work harder for their goals. They have people who they look up to because they connect with their writing styles. Mark Twain was his own inspiration. In his novels he took his past experiences and made unique and imaginative stories. In the story The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain states, “Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred; one or two were experiences of my own, the rest of those boys were schoolmates of mine. Huck is drawn from life; Tom Sawyer also, but not from an individual—he is a combination of the characteristics of three boys whom I knew, and therefore belongs to the composite order of architecture.” His mother and the salves that he met as a child inspired his novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Also the character of Tom Sawyer was a reflection of Mark Twain himself. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn he based his characters on his childhood friends. He used realism in terms of showing the actual racial and political issues of that time. In addition Twain was also inspired by his surroundings. As stated “Hannibal, Missouri is a port town on the Mississippi River that inspired the fictional stories called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Missouri was a slave state and Twain became familiar with slavery that helped him in writing his books.”

Twain’s greatest achievement was what he represented as an American. The Mark Twain House and Museum best describe this American representation. It is expressed that, “… how could Twain be considered “the American?” Precisely because he enjoyed the freedoms that America provides. He used our freedom of speech to question our leaders, mock hypocrisy and praise those he deemed worthy of praise. He used the freedom of the press to tell the truth, stretch the truth and create his own truth. He created the embodiment of American childhood with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He exposed our institutionalized racism that denied rights to African Americans in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson.

He was a Capitalist who started his own businesses and earned his own wealth. Twain also, like many Americans, faced debt and imminent foreclosure. He voted his conscience and used his freedom of religion to pursue his own path toward understanding and challenging the Immortal. He embraced the American ability to invent you. How else would a Samuel Clemens become a Mark Twain? Of course, he was born in America, but he also represented America across the globe. In turn, he brought the world back to American shores through his travel writing, helping us become global citizens. He became an internationally renowned celebrity, something American culture craves. And finally, his books engendered all of the liberties that we hold dear – books that are widely read in countries where those freedoms are denied. As such, maybe Mark Twain is “the American.”

One can say from his works and life that Mark Twain is the father of American Literature. His writings brought the American life and stories to readers all over the world. His style of humor and realism was a massive staple in leading the way for other writers to represent stories in a more realistic way. He fits the title of the father of American Literature because he was very much an American and very much a talented writer that brought America to paper.

Sources The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Mark Twain Biography by Susan Bivin Aller
The Bedford Anthology of American Literature

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