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Mark Twain’s Life

Mark Twain, toward the end of his life, was characterized as . . . speaking candidly in his last years but still with a vitality and ironic detachment that kept his work from being merely the fulminations of an old and angry man. 1 Growing up around slavery, discrimination, and loss, Mark Twain was bombarded with negativity. His childhood foreshadowed the loss that surrounded his old age. Because of this negativity, he often criticized and questioned humanity.

Despite this, Samuel Clemens adopted the pen name Mark Twain, and created very famous works that were comical and humorous, making him out to be a humorist. By the end of his life, Twain had lost everything, affecting his writings and humor. Because of the negative events in his life, Mark Twain s later works became increasingly pessimistic. Farris 1 Though Twain experienced and remembered loss and grief since childhood, it was only expressed clearly through his later writings. Growing up, he had witnessed the cruelty of slavery and the effects that pervaded society throughout his lifetime.

Even though . . young Clemens had been reassured that chattel slavery was an institution approved by God, he nevertheless carried with him memories of cruelty and sadness that he would reflect upon in his maturity. 2 Witnessing slavery added to his growing uncertainty in humanity. While being known for his humor, it lacks from Twain s letters and writings after the death of his wife. Emerson wrote . . . only in the last of them do the jokes fade and personal grievances begin to take over. 3 Twain had dealt with loss throughout his life, but only during his later works can his anguish be seen clearly.

By the age of 8, Twain had lost both his brother and sister. 4 In 1847, when Twain was 11, his father died unexpectedly of pneumonia. He had witnessed death for the duration of his adolescence, including a drowning, shooting, and violent deaths such as beatings and stabbings. 5 Unfortunately, this intimacy with death did not falter when he grew up. Twain and his wife Olivia had lost three of their four children by 1909. 6 Despite working and being away from Olivia so often, Twain loved her very much; her death in 1904 devastated him. 7 This love was only matched by his obsession with writing.

Although he regretted being away from his family, he had an . . . unconscious anger at himself for not giving undivided attention to his deepest creative instincts. 8 This anger was expressed in writings criticizing human greed and cruelty, in which he questioned the humanity of the human race. 9 He wrote works such as Letters From The Earth, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, and short stories like Old Age , Thoughts of God , and The Synod of Praise. These works express a deep dissatisfaction with humanity, God, and the human need for self-approval.

In an optimistic search for new challenges, with hopes of financial success, Twain took some monetary risks. He had created his own publishing house, which eventually failed and closed. The publishing house was open for ten years and continuously cost more money than it was bringing it. Along with the failed publishing house, lousy investments in new inventions led to financial ruin. He had hoped these investments would be profitable enough to live out his life comfortably. Unfortunately, these risks only landed him deeper in debt, forcing him to write as a necessity, not a passion.

Twain financial failure and ultimate bankruptcy were said to have . . . contributed powerfully to a growing pessimism in him, a deep-down feeling that human existence is a cosmic joke perpetrated by a chuckling God. 10 These failures led to a growing pessimistic outlook on life and existence in general. Farris 2 The aftermath of Twain s losses were documented in his writings. His letters revealed his . . . volcanic rages and nasty bouts of paranoia, and he experienced many periods of depressed indolence. . . . 11 Toward the end of his life, Twain created many unpublished, unfinished works.

Emerson states that the large collection of works Twain had left unfinished at his death . . . reinforces one s sense that in his last years he was often a fumbling artist, painfully uncertain of how to harness his genius. 12 Many of these works were never shared and were never intended to be shared during Twain s lifetime. The few writings he did share were letters to family and close friends. He declared that some works could be published, but it would have to be long after his death.

He delegated this on the . . . largely erroneous assumption that his true views would scandalize the public. He saw his own views as audacious and thought the world would need five hundred years to catch up. 14 Along with his beliefs, public appearance and reputation were other major factors in the publishing of his later works. He feared that his reputation would be ruined forever,15 preventing him from even attempting to publish his works. Twain was known as a funnyman, a persona that limited what works he could and could not share with the world. This persona became something of a curse to him,16 even though he created it himself.

The public s perception of his as funnyman and nothing more had frustrated him. 7 During Twain s later years, he had stopped trying to live up to the reputation and persona of a humorist and a funnyman. The change itself was not in writing styles, but in humor. This change was best characterized by the statement that it was not the indignation he was expressing during these later years that was new; what seemed to be new was the frequent absence of the palliative humour that had seasoned the earlier outbursts. 18 By dropping the filter of humor, Twain s works became increasingly pessimistic. Farris 3 Towards the end of his life, Twain was looking for a change of scenery, and escape from his failures and loss.

In an attempt to lower his debt and terminate his investments, Twain and his wife sold their house and moved to England. The family continued to travel through Europe from Farris 4 1891-1900; through these travels, Twain was exposed to exploitation of governments and corruption that inspired novels. 19 Twain wrote about both social and political experiences and opinions because . . . he had been encouraged to think he was a writer whose opinions were widely respected. 20 In his later works, Twain began to write about religion. He expressed his own views, without filter.

Writing became a coping mechanism, helping to absolve his anguish. Twain attacked certain religious aspects in an attempt to explain his loss and grief. Sloan commented that firing these paper bullets of the brain momentarily eased his leaden grief. 21 Twain s frustration was said to have been . . . aggravated by the supposition that God, were he genially disposed, could eliminate all unhappiness, yet sadistically declines to do so. 22 Despite constantly critiquing God and religion, Twain never doubted the existence of God; he only doubted his methods.

Because of the loss and sadness that he had experienced throughout his life, he became bitter and angry at his Creator. When speaking of praising God, Twain wrote my praise is that we have not two of him. 23 In the short story The Synod of Praise , Twain s beliefs can be summarized into a single paragraph, Blame. It is a word applicable to God only. Unrequested, he made man, and is responsible for all man s words and deeds. The vote of a continent of Gods could not absolve him from his responsibility nor was him clean of the stain of any harm that may befall his creature. 24 Twain blamed God for all of his failures and grievances.

While criticizing God s motives and methods, Twain made many comments on the creation of a Moral Sense. Twain stated through many different works that a Moral Sense was something only human beings possessed. Twain states . . . the function of the Moral Sense is to create WRONG since without it all conduct would be right. 25 He believed that if the Moral Sense was never created, there would be no wrongdoing, only innocence would remain. This believe that morality can be taken away by God, that it is God himself that punishes and creates wrongness unto his creations, increased Twain pessimism and bitterness.

By the end of his life, Twain criticized God and resented humanity. He had lost his family and declared bankruptcy. Because of the negative events in his life, Mark Twain s later works became increasingly pessimistic. The events of Twain s childhood had foreshadowed the loss and grief that Twain felt throughout his lifetime. He had grown up around slavery, discrimination, and death. All of the events leading up to his old age had left him bitter and resentful. Towards the end of his life, the persona of Mark Twain, humorist and funnyman, was very different than the truth.

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