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Mark Twain

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English Literature

Mark Twain is recognized as a talented American writer who used humor and sarcasm to add a unique perspective to his writing. Applauded for his wit, wry observations on human nature, and the ethical issues he tackled through his writing, many often credit Twain as being one of the greatest humorists in the United States.

Twain's novels and short stories are inspired by the social and political issues of his time: racism, slavery, women's rights, equality, and social class and status. We'll look at Mark Twain's life and work, including a few of his most famous novels and short stories, and some memorable Twain quotes, proving his legacy as one of the great American authors.

Mark Twain's Biography and Facts

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known to his readers as Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, lecturer, publisher, and entrepreneur.

Mark Twain's early life and tragedy

Mark Twain was born in November 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He was born two months premature and was not expeced to live. As a result, he was fairly sickly for the first ten years of his life. When young Sam Clemens was four, his father sought a business opportunity and moved the family to Hannibal, Missouri. There the boy would entertain himself with harmless childish pranks and youthful mischief while his father was plagued with debt from poor business decisions, much like Twain would suffer later in life.

It was during this time that Clemens would spend much of his childhood fishing, swimming, and exploring the banks of the Mississippi River. When Sam Clemens was about 12, his father unexpectedly died from pneumonia. Young Clemens then picked up odd jobs throughout Hannibal to help the family pay bills and have enough food to eat.

Clemens worked as a delivery boy, a grocer's clerk, and an assistant blacksmith until he became an apprentice printer as a thirteen-year-old boy. He had a limited elementary education because he had to work to support his family at a young age.

Clemens' father's debt influenced the family's relocation to Hannibal, Missouri. Twain became fond of this river port town, which inspired much of his writing. Missouri was a slave state, and from a young age Twain witnessed the cruelty of such an institution. His experiences and observations as a youth, including his family's financial struggles, would influence his writing and themes.

Mark Twain a river bank StudySmarterRivers were a common element throughout Twain's life, pexels.

Mark Twain's Careers and Love Life

Samuel then worked for several newspapers, and as he grew he sporadically abandoned journalism to work as a riverboat pilot and journey the 1,200 miles of the Mississippi. In the 1860s he spent time in the West panning for gold and in newspaper work. He also travelled to Europe and the Holy Land, experiences which would later inform his writing in The Innocents Abroad (1869) and Roughing It (1872).

In 1863 Clemens adopted the pen name Mark Twain, and in 1867 he won notoriety for publishing an entertaining collection of writings, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and other Sketches (1867). Five years later, Twain met Olivia (Livy) Langdon, and began a lecture tour of the American Midwest. He also signed a contract for his first book, The Innocents Abroad. Livy worked as an editor on his manuscript (as well as all others after it), and in 1870 the two married and welcomed their first son, Langdon.

A pen name, also called a "nom de plume", literary double, or a pseudonym, is an assumed name writers often use in place of their real name. Samuel Langhorne Clemens's pen name was Mark Twain.

Samuel Clemens first used the pseudonym Mark Twain in 1863. "Mark twain" actually means "two fathoms deep" and is a river term that indicates the depth of water at which you can safely navigate a boat. Twain is an antiquated way of saying "two", and one fathom equals six feet. Riverboats need at least twelve feet of water to navigate safely.

The couple continued to grow the family in their Connecticut home as Twain worked on his two most successful novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). After Langdon, Livy gave birth to three daughters, while Twain traveled, lectured, invented, and wrote.

In addition to working on his novels, Twain also:

  • invented a board game and bought a patent on it, but never manufactured or sold the game.

  • loved scrapbooking and invented a self-adhesive scrapbook that worked like an envelope.

  • abhorred suspenders, and sought a way to improve them. He found the buttons and snaps difficult to use and invented a garment clasp system to secure them. Although his invention was not embraced for suspenders, it is now often used to secure the elastic bands on the back of bras.

Mark Twain's personal tragedies and financial struggles

Mark Twain's life was littered with loss and financial troubles. As previously mentioned, he lost his father as a young boy. Before Twain had even published his first novel, his brother tragically died in a steamboat accident. Two years after the premature birth of their son Langdon, Livy and Twain lost him to diphtheria.

Daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis when she was 24. Following this, Twain suffered the loss of his wife, Livy, in 1904. One year before Twain's own death, his daughter Jean died of a heart attack at 29 years of age.

Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial blood disease that causes the mucous membranes to swell, and another false membrane to form in the back of the throat that hinders breathing and swallowing and can lead to fatal heart and nerve damage.

Because of many failed business ventures, including a printing press and publishing company that left him bankrupt, Twain and his family had to leave their beloved Hartford mansion and move to Berlin, Germany. His financial struggles stayed with him for the rest of his life, and he continued to work, giving lectures and working with a biographer to document his life.

Mark Twain's cause of death

Because of his mounting debt and failed business ventures, Mark Twain had to work as a lecturer well into his old age. When Twain was 70, Theodore Roosevelt invited him to the White House and he continued to lecture, even speaking to Congress about copyright issues.

In 1908 Twain moved into Stormfield, a property in Redding, Connecticut. This was the last place he would call home. After a trip to Bermuda to relax and improve his ailing health, Twain developed heart problems, and returned to Stormfield. His only surviving child, Clara, was by his bedside when he died in 1910.

Books by Mark Twain

Mark Twain is credited with writing at least 28 books and many short stories. The topics are probing, and presented in a way that entices and entertains the audience.

William Faulkner once said that Mark Twain was "the first truly American writer, and all of us are his heirs." (An Interview with William Faulkner, "Faulkner in the University". Summer 1951)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer focuses on the title character, Tom Sawyer, an imaginative boy growing up along the Mississippi River. Tom and two of his friends pretend to be river pirates and hide on Jackson's Island. When Tom's Aunt Polly can't find him, the whole town believes he is dead. With the support of his friends. Tom sneaks back into town to attend his own funeral. This is a coming-of-age novel that deals with the importance of friendship.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn focuses on Tom's friend, Huck, who escapes his home and abusive alcoholic father. He journeys down the Mississippi on a makeshift raft with runaway slave, Jim. The title character, Huck Finn, sees a conflict between the legal and social norms of the time and what is moral.

Huck recognizes Jim as a man and more than just a piece of property, and resolves to do what is morally right, rather than what is right according to society. The book deals with the themes of slavery, moral decisions, and even gender roles in insightful and thought-provoking ways.

The Innocents Abroad (1869)

The Innocents Abroad is a humoristic travel guide that examines Americans and the nature of people in highly observant and comical, and sarcastic ways. Twain uses humor to highlight the differences between Americans and people in other countries. It is funny for its self-effacing humor and novel for its insightful observations.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)

The novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court follows Hank Morgan, the protagonist, as he is knocked unconscious and transported thorugh time and space back into the Dark Ages. He is captured by one of King Arthur's knights, and he uses his knowledge of the future to make others believe he is a skilled magician. Hank attempts to modernize this society and fails at trying to prevent King Arthur's death.

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain is a humorist who toured the country giving lectures. He is famous for his one-liners and keen observations about mankind and life. While many great quotes came from his lectures, some very famous ones can be found in his essays and novels. The quotes reveal his unique perspective on human nature.

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel.

"The Lowest Animal" (1897)

In his essay "The Lowest Animal", Twain explains how man is the only animal that is cruel and inflicts pain for the pleasure of it. Cats play with mice, but do not know of the suffering. Man is aware he causes suffering to others, and continues to do so. Very plainly, Twain argues that the true "lowest animal," is mankind.

All right, then, I'll go to hell.

Chapter 31, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

Arguably the strongest line of the novel, this phrase is spoken by Huck Finn. He struggles with the moral decision of whether to help Jim, a slave, escape slavery or not. The young boy concludes that he would rather help Jim, even if it means damning his own soul. This morally sound admission by a young man is still one of the most famous lines in American Literature.

The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.

Chapter 5, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

This line from the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer reveals one of the main issues Twain surfaced in his novels, short stories, essays, and lectures. Humans rarely challenge or question social habits and norms the longer they have been a part of a culture. It is a criticism of humankind's inability to self-reflect and think critically about action.

Mark Twain - Key takeaways

  • Mark Twain was an American writer, humorist, lecturer, publisher, and entrepreneur.
  • He is best known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Twain's life was filled with grief and struggle, and he never received a formal education past elementary school.
  • Twain was respected by other writers and was an important political figure of his time.
  • He is also known by his birth name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain is recognized as a talented American writer who used humor and sarcasm to add a unique perspective to his writing.

Mark Twain wrote at least 28 books and many short stories. 

Mark Twain is most famous for being a humorist and for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He is often credited as being the first truly American writer.

Mark Twain died of heart problems.

His novels and short stories are inspired by the social and political issues of his time: racism, slavery, women's rights, equality, and social class and status. 

Final Mark Twain Quiz

Question

How many children did Mark Twain have?

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Answer

4

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How old was Mark Twain when he started working? 

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Answer

12

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Question

What is a pen name? 

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Answer

A pen name is an assumed name that writers often use when publishing. 

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What is a pseudonym?

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Answer

a pen name

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How many children did Mark Twain lose?

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Answer

3

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What was Twain's wife's name?

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Answer

Olivia Langdon, he called her Livy

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What influenced Twain's writing? 

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Social, political, and moral issues

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What caused Twain to go bankrupt?

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Answer

Business and financial investments

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Why did Mark Twain die?

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heart problems

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Why did Mark Twain continue to work in his old age? 

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Answer

he had crippling debt

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How was Twain's editor? 

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Livy, his wife

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Who was Twain's first-born son named after? 

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Livy's maiden name, Langdon

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What childhood tragedy led to Twain dropping out of school? 

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Answer

his father died

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What does mark twain mean? 

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Answer

It is a nautical term that means "two fathoms" or 12 feet deep. Twain means two, and a fathom is 6 feet deep. 

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Which book did Twain write first?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 

or

The Innocents Abroad

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Answer

The Innocents Abroad

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Who wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Answer

Mark Twain, whose birth name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

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What genre is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn commonly classified as?

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is typically classified as a picaresque novel.

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What is a picaresque novel? 

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A picaresque novel is typically a narrative told in first person point of view and focuses on a non-hero who has a series of episodic adventures. 

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What is a foil character? 

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A foil character is another character in a piece of fiction who contrasts a main character and is meant to highlight the central character's traits.

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When was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published? 

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1885. 

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What character is meant as a foil for Huck Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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Tom 

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Why does Huck leave the cabin at the start of the novel? 

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Pap is beating him and Huck fears the beatings will get worse. 

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What does Huck do when he escapes that has the townspeople searching for him? 

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Huck fakes his death (and then hides at Jackson Island).

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What compels Jim to run away from Miss Watson in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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Jim overhears that she is going to sell him and he wants to be with his family.

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Why does Jim hide the identity of the dead man on the river from Huck? 

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The dead man is Pap, Huck's father.

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What do the duke and the king do to betray Huck and Jim? 

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They sell Jim to a farmer. 

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Why does Huck's father kidnap him? 

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Pap wants Huck's money that is in the bank. 

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What is Mark Twain's birth name? 

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Answer

Mark Twain's birth name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens. 

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Question

The line in Chapter 31 that reads "All right, then, I'll go to hell" means that 

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Answer

Huck has followed his own instinct and morals and decides to help Jim escape the bonds of slavery, even if it means an eternity in hell for himself. 

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