Critical Biography of Mark Twain

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Critical Biography of Mark Twain 6 pages
Just from $13/Page
Order Essay

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is considered to be one of America’s greatest humorists and writers. He is perhaps best known for his novels about boyhood life on the Mississippi River in the mid-19th Century: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered to be Twain’s greatest contribution to American literature, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, both of which were based in part on his adventures as a child along the banks of the Mississippi. Using the pen name Mark Twain, Clemens published more than thirty works of literature that included satire, historical fiction, short stories, and nonfiction. Quite a few of his books, including Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court have gone on to become classics (Literature 1835-1910, n.d).

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born as the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens, on Nov. 30, 1835, in the little town of Florida, Mo. His parents had no idea that their son Samuel would one day be known as Mark Twain — one of America’s most famous literary icons. About four years after he was born, the Clemens family moved thirty five miles east to the town of Hannibal, which was a budding port city along the banks of the Mississippi River. Hannibal was a regular stop for steam boats coming from St. Louis and New Orleans (Mark Twain, n.d.).

Samuel’s father worked at a judge. In 1844 he built a in which the family lived. When he was young, Samuel was often kept indoors because he had poor health. At age nine, he recovered from his ailments and was allowed to join the rest of the town’s children outside. He then began attending a private school in Hannibal. When Samuel was 12, his father died from pneumonia. At 13, he left school to become a printer’s apprentice. Two years after this, he went to work for his brother Orion’s newspaper as a printer and editorial assistant. It was by doing this that young Samuel found that he enjoyed writing (Mark Twain, n.d.).

When he was 17, he left Hannibal in order to take a printer’s job in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, Clemens became a river pilot’s trainee. He became a certified river pilot in 1858. Clemens’ pseudonym, Mark Twain, came from the days that he spent as a river pilot. Mark Twain is a river term that is used to mean two fathoms or 12-feet when the depth of water for a boat is being announced. Mark twain means that it is safe to navigate the river at the time. Due to the fact that the river trade was brought to a stand still by the Civil War in 1861, Clemens had to start working as a newspaper reporter for several newspapers all over the United States. In 1870, Clemens married Olivia Langdon and together they had four children. One of their children died in infancy and two others died in their twenties. Their last surviving daughter, Clara, lived to be 88, and had one daughter of her own. Clara’s daughter died before she had any children, and so there are no direct descendants of Samuel Clemens living today (Mark Twain, n.d.).

Twain began to achieve fame when his tale, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County” was first published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. Twain’s first book, “The Innocents Abroad,” was published in 1869, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1876, and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in 1885. He wrote a total of 28 books along with other numerous short stories, letters and sketches. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, but still has a following today (Mark Twain, n.d.).

Although he’s been gone a full century now, reports of his death are still being embellished. Twain is thought to be very much alive today. He lives on in the ways that Americans manifest their cultural identity, in the things that they think and the ways in which they tend to behave. No writer before or since has ever outlined our national description better than Twain did. The years that lead up to his death were not happy ones for Twain. It is hard to find a man who loved his daughters and his wife as plentifully as Twain did. His daughter Susy died 14 years before he did. This dealt him an emotional blow of inconceivable severity. Losing his favorite daughter, the one who wrote a book about him, and who was the recipient of so much paternal love and hope was devastating to him. Eight years after Susy died Twain’s wife Olivia died. She was a woman with whom he’d shared one of the great love stories to be found in the history of American writers. A year before Twain died, his daughter Jean passed away after many years of battling mental illness. For Mark Twain, a man who had invested so much loyalty and love in the women who made up his domestic life, the brutality of those losses was almost unbearable (O’Neill, 2010).

If one believes that artists and writers have played, and continue to play, major roles in shaping the American imagination, it can surely be said that one of the most important persuasions would be that of Mark Twain. In addition to attaining enduring popularity and becoming a part of the American literary canon, Twain and his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been the subjects of widespread conversation in many fields of study, including political philosophy. Twain often saw the romantic imagination as failing to move man towards truth. Various literary scholars have proposed that Twain’s literary opinions have been tied to realism because they seem to be founded on an embedded hostility toward romantic literature. Twain is characteristically classified as a member of the loosely defined school of American Literary Realism, although in recent years certain scholars have questioned the suitability of this classification (Minzesheimer, 2005).

Born into a poor family in 1835, Samuel Clemens worked as a printer, steamboat captain and prospector before reinventing himself as Mark Twain, lecturer, international travel writer, essayist, novelist, humorist and political commentator. By current standards, he would no longer be considered a best seller. Since USA Today’s Best-Selling Books list began in 1993, Twain’s masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, has never been higher than No. 262. Even though he is no longer a best seller he remains one of America’s most influential writers (Minzesheimer, 2005).

The ideas of Huck Finn’s young narrator, outside of the mainstream, whose talk tells you where he’s from, and how he is trying to find his way in a world full of liars and hypocrites, is considered to be the prototype for J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Twain is still widely read, not just in the U.S.A., but around the world. There are hundreds of editions of his writings still in print, and new ones are materializing all the time. He is considered America’s most iconic writer. Twain often liked illustrations in his books, but the most memorable icon that he is remembered for is himself. He is often remembered for his shaggy hair and perennial cigar. He was known to have smoked 300 of them a month (Minzesheimer, 2005).

Huck Finn is about a boy willing to go to hell for the fugitive slave Jim, thinking his act of conscience was a criminal act. He related humor to serious subjects such as slavery. He revealed not only its insincerity but the absurdity of churchgoing folks to rationalize it. Huck’s frequent use of the n-word, 214 times by one count, has prompted parents and educators to question its use in classrooms and libraries. The American Library Association has said that Huckleberry Finn was the 14th most confronted book in the past decade. The proponents of the book include prominent black writers such as Toni Morrison, who has written that the repeated attempts to remove the novel from classrooms extend Jim’s captivity on into each generation of readers. Twain moved to Hartford in 1871 to be closer to his publisher. He lived there for most of the next 25 years. It was during this time that he wrote Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Minzesheimer, 2005).

Using money that his wife had inherited, Twain built a mansion across the street from the more modest home of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Twain’s home replicates the many-sided complexity of the man and writer. He had his dining room fireplace built with a divided flue and a window that let him, bask in the warmth of a raging fire while watching snowflakes fall outside. Beneath, the cool, comic surface of work he wrote while he lived there one can find some pretty intense and fiery disapprovals of his society. It was the family’s home until 1896. Twain, his wife and two of his three daughters were in Europe when his daughter, Susy, contracted meningitis and died at home. She was 24 when she died and Twain never lived in the house again (Literature 1835-1910, n.d).

Like many authors that lived in his day, Twain had very little formal education. His education was obtained in the print shops and newspaper offices where he worked as a boy. By the time he was 18, he had served an apprenticeship as a printer at his brother Orion’s paper and written a humorous sketch, The Dandy Frightening the Squatter, which was published in The Carpet Bag, a New York periodical. He continued to work as a humor writer under such pseudonyms as Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, W. Epaminandos Adrastus Blab, Sergeant Fathom, and Josh (Literature 1835-1910, n.d).

Although Twain has some financial comfort during his years in Hartford, he made some bad investments in new inventions, and was forced into bankruptcy. In an effort to save money and pay off their debts, Twain moved his family to Europe in 1891. When his publishing company was unsuccessful in 1894, Twain was required to set out on a worldwide lecture tour in order to earn money. Unable to return to the place where their daughter died, the Twains never went back to Hartford to live. From 1891 until 1900, Twain and his family toured all over the world. In 1897, he wrote Following the Equator, which told of European powers’ utilization of weaker governments, which he witnessed during their travels (Literature 1835-1910, n.d).

The Boer War in South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China added to Twain’s growing anger toward imperialistic countries and their dealings. With the arrival of the Spanish-American and Philippines War in 1898, Twain’s anger was readdressed toward the American government. By the time Twain returned to the U.S. from Europe and paid off his debts, he had become America’s foremost personality. He was asked to be present at ship launchings, anniversary gatherings, political conventions, and countless dinners. Reporters often met him at every port of call, anxious to print a new quote from him. In order to improve his image, he took to wearing white suits and strolled down the street to attract attention. It was during this time that Twain acknowledged himself an anti-imperialist and, from 1901 until his death in 1910, served as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League (Literature 1835-1910, n.d).

In his later years, Twain’s writings turned to a darker side. They started to focus on human greed and cruelty, and question the humanity of the human race. Even though Twain’s lecture tour had enabled him to get out of debt, his anti-government writings and speeches endangered his livelihood once again. Labeled by some as a traitor, several of Twain’s works were not published while he was alive, because of the fact that magazines would not accept them, and perhaps because of a fear that he had that his marketable status would be ruined if they were (Literature 1835-1910, n.d). Mark Twain continues to be a very influential person in American Literature even today. Even so many years after his death it is very important to study his works in order to better understand the society in which we live. A great deal can be learned from reading his classic works and should be read by everyone.

Works Cited

Byrne, William F. Realism, Romanticism, and Politics in Mark Twain. 27 July 2010, Highbeam,

Web. 2010.

Literature, 1835-1910. 27 July 2010, U.S. History, Web. n.d < http://www.u-s->

Mark Twain. 27 July 2010, Web. n.d.

Minzesheimer, Bob. 100 years later Twain’s work still influences writers while charming readers. 27 July 2010, USA Today, Web. 20 April 2010.