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Understanding Mark Twain: Mark Twain


Understanding Mark Twain: Mark Twain s Novels – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Understanding Mark Twain: Mark Twain

Understanding Mark Twain Mark Twains Novels
  • At my blog, TwainProject.BlogSpot.com, I post
    Twain related articles and photos that showcase
    his time in Redding, Connecticut.
  • One day, after a post about one of the Centennial
    Celebrations we were having to commemorate his
    life in Redding, I received the following

  • Mark Twain is the kind of boring writer that my
    teachers tried to push down my throat in Middle
    School and High School. If there is any way to
    learn about the way people lived back then,
    reading Twain is not it. If theres a literary
    icon or role model for the 19th century, Mark
    Twain is not the one.
  • His scatterbrained stories have no meaning or
    reason behind them. He simply wrote for the sake
    of writing

  • The remarks echoed those made by Danbury CTs
    High School English Department Chairman last year
    in the Danbury News-Times
  • His Twains influence is waning. Its a lot
    more difficult to get kids interested in his
    writings. Sometimes, its because its more
    satirical and less blunt humor than they hear

  • The issue here is real- teachers students dont
    get Twain because they dont know Twain. After a
    great deal of thought discussion with others, I
    concluded that we may be teaching Twain wrong.
  • What if kids got to know Twain first?
  • Maybe if they better understood his life
    experiences, theyd understand why he wrote what
    he wrote and want to read his works.

  • Here is a preview of my solution to this issue,
    and what Id like to present to classrooms across

Hellomy name is Samuel L. Clemens. A.K.A. Mark
  • I came in with Halleys Comet in 1835. It is
    coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go
    out with it. It will be the greatest
    disappointment of my life if I dont go out with
    Halleys Comet.
  • -Mark Twain, a Biography In 1910, Halleys
    Comet reached perihelion on April 20th and Mark
    Twain died on the 21st.

Halleys Comet
Died 04/21/1910
Born 11/30/1835
Redding, Connecticut
Florida, Missouri
Sure You could call me Rags to Riches
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born in this cabin
in the small frontier settlement of Florida,
Interior of Florida, Missouri home
  • He was born two months premature, on November
    30th 1835.
  • The sixth child of John and Jane Clemens.
  • Premature babies at that time period did not
    usually survive. The frontier was a harsh
    environment and children routinely died from
    diseases such as measles, smallpox, scarlet fever
    and malaria.

  • When I first saw him I could see no promise in
  • Jane Clemens, his mother.

  • Sam survived, but would spent a good amount of
    his first four years of life in bed. There he
    would absorb and retain many of the sounds and
    voices that surrounded him.
  • Hearing is believed to develop very quickly in
    premature babies and Sam would exhibit an unusual
    ability to retain the sounds he heard around him
    in his younger years, especially, the dialects of

  • He never stopped performing the earliest songs
    and spirituals he heard, and as a mature writer
    he could reproduce entire blocks of spoken
  • His capacity to transform commonplace spoken
    language into literature, like any artists gift,
    remains beyond understanding.
  • -Ron Powers, Mark Twain, a Life

  • Other Talented Premature Babies
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Isaac Newton
  • Albert Einstein
  • Charles Darwin
  • Renoir
  • John Keats
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Stevie Wonder

  • Many, if not all, of Mark Twain novels and
    stories were directly tied to his life
  • His earliest life experiences, specifically his
    exposure to slaves and slavery, are brought to
    life in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • In many ways Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Although the Missouri he grew up in never joined
    the Confederacy, it was a world in which slavery
    was accepted and practiced by most white
    families Sam's parents owned slaves, his Uncle
    John did too.
  • In fact, slavery was defended by all of
    Missouris public institutions, including the

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • In Twains Notebook 35 he writes
  • In those slave-holding days the whole community
    was agreed as to one thing- the awful sacredness
    of slave property.
  • It shows that that strange thing, the
    conscience - the unerring monitor - can be
    trained to approve any wild thing you want it to
    approve if you begin its education early stick
    to it.

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Unlike many Missourians, Twain left Missouri in
    his teens and traveled to several Northern States
    that frowned upon Slavery and the hatred that
    fueled it.

Sams teenage travels 2,000 miles
  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • As he matured, he came to realize the wrongs that
    he had unknowingly been a part of and through his
    writings he exposed the wrongs that he had seen

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • In Following the Equator, he says
  • When I was ten years old I saw a man fling a
    lump of iron-ore at a slave-man in anger, for
    merely doing something awkwardly- as if that were
    a crime. It bounded from the mans skull, and the
    man fell and never spoke again. He was dead in an
    hour Nobody in the village approved of that
    murder, but of course no one said much about it.
    (Chapter 38)

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • His association with Slavery left him with a
    legacy of guilt, guilt that he tried to lessen
    through acts of charity. He donated money and
    made special appearances at fundraising events
    for numerous African American Churches,
    Institutes, and Associations. He also supported

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • In 1885, the year Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    was released, he anonymously paid the tuition for
    Warner T. McGuinn, a struggling African American
    law student at Yale Law School.
  • In a letter to Yales Law School Dean, he noted
    We have ground the manhood out of them, the
    shame is ours, not theirs, we should pay for

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is powerful
    because of its realism. The situations, the
    topics, the conversations, and the dialects he
    uses in those conversations all come from Twains
    unique life experiences.
  • Jims words and the way he speaks are all tied
    to Twains childhood

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Ron Powers, Mark Twain, a Life
  • He heard his first slave voices before the age
    of four, and sought them out through the rest of
    his childhood and beyond.
  • no human voices, save his own mothers, caught
    his imagination quite like those of the Negro

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Those voices spoke in a way different from the
    people in his family quick, delicious, throbbing
    with urgencies half-named, half-encoded. They
    conjured mind-pictures lightning bolts,
    apparitions from the spirit world, chariots
    swooping down from heaven the slave voices
    treated language as a cherished creature, to be
    passed around, partaken of

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • One of the slave voices that influenced Sams
    life was a middle aged slave known to him as
    Uncle Danl
  • Hed later recall the privileged nights he, his
    cousins the slave children clustered at Danls
    feet to hear him tell his thunderous stories.

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • He has served me well, these many, many
    yearsspiritually I have had his welcome company
    have staged him in books as his own name and as
  • It was on the farm that I got my strong liking
    for his race and my appreciation of its fine

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took Twain 8 years
    to write. Between manuscript 1 and 2, he made
    more than 1,700 revisions. 88 percent of these
    revisions being word changes, spelling,
    punctuation and adding emphasis. He used the
    words he used for a reason.
  • The N-Word appears 219 times in the novel and
    its usage is deliberate.

  • "The difference between the almost right word and
    the right word is really a large matter it's
    the difference between the lightning bug and the
  • -Mark Twain

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • The N-Word appears 219 times for two reasons.
  • 1. Its usage is historically correct. That is
    how white people referred to African- Americans
    in that time period.
  • 2. It shows/screams at us how wrong and
    hurtful that mindset was.

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • As the novel progresses, Huck matures and
    realizes the wrongs of the slavery society hes
    grown up in much like Twain himself did.
  • Hucks decision to reject that societys values
    and go to Hell, rather than betray his friend
    Jim is one of the novels most powerful moments.

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Huck discovers "you can't pray a lie" and that
    helping Jim is the right thing to do -- even if
    society's most pious and learned insist that
    aiding a runaway is perverted and wicked.

  • Understanding Huckleberry Finn
  • Twain once described the novel as
  • "a book of mine where a sound heart and a
    deformed conscience come into collision and
    conscience suffers a defeat." He also once said
    My books are simply autobiographies
  • and in many ways Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    is just that

In summary I am not a Racist.
Now back to my life story.
Many of Twains characters, including Huckleberry
Finn, were a product of his childhood
experiences in Hannibal.
Sams family moved to nearby Hannibal, Missouri
in 1839, where hed enjoy his boyhood in the
presence of the broad Mississippi River.
  • Location, Location, Location
  • Hannibal was the center of America at a time when
    America was making the transition from East to
    West. Sam had a very unique, front row seat to
    civilization Immigrants, Merchants, Speculators,
    Gamblers, Thieves, Politicians, Preachers,
    Runaways Indians he saw it all on the river
    front and he soaked it all in.

The Great Frontier The West is largely unsettled
by Americans.
United States in 1835
  • Location, Location, Location
  • Because of Hannibals River-side location and
    Americas Westward expansion, Sam would
    experience a very diverse group of individuals or
    as Ron Powers notes in Mark Twain, a Life
  • a continuing vaudeville of floating humanity.

  • When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or
    biography I generally take a warm personal
    interest in him, for the reason that I have known
    him before--met him on the river.
  • - Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

  • Location, Location, Location
  • The education that Sam would receive in Hannibal
    from the age of four to the age of seventeen
    would come through loud and clear in his novels
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The
    Adventures of Tom Sawyer

From here I would go on to describe his
childhood, education, teenage travels, etc
Feedback is welcomed, please e-mail me
at bcolley_at_colleyweb.com
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