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Mark Twain As Philosopher

Mark Twain is, according to critics and readers alike, the first great American
novelist (Reuben). Throughout his lifetime Twain, born Samuel Longhorn Clemens,
held an eclectic mix of jobs, and, wrote a great deal about his experiences and
his boyhood. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (AOTS) and Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn (AOHF) are a pair of novels by Twain that: present the new and radical
changes in the early 1800s in contrast to the old fashioned ways; mirror Twain’s
life as a young boy growing up in a one-horse town on the Mississippi River;
and, give the reader an idea of his view that the loss of innocence signals the
coming of age. Twain was born in 1835 and Tom Sawyer grew up in the 1840s.

Around this time, America, especially the North, was undergoing
“revolutionary changes in transportation and communication” (Geise
93). The river steam boat was invented in 1807 (Roberts and Kennedy 305) and
subsequently took over mass transportation from sailboats using the ocean (Geise).

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This was a big change from the previous small scale or trans-ocean transport.

After the steam boat came the steam train which revolutionised transportation in
a similar fashion, and they synergistically opened the West to all people and
boosted trade and commerce enormously–not just of the big industrial towns but
of the en-route towns and the farms, In 1849, agriculture accounted for over
half of the nation’s economy, whereas today it is one-fiftieth (Roberts and
Kennedy A27). Canals, turnpikes and clipper ships also greatly affected
transport and communication between distant places (311). The times were
revolutionary in that the old ways of taking dirty, bumpy roads long distances
with little profit were over. Another sign of the times was slavery. Racism was
widespread during this time period because many large farms and plantations held
slaves. Feelings towards slaves in Missouri were not generally sympathetic, and
abolitionists were not well accepted because the economy would collapse without
the slave based agriculture. Rudyard Kipling wrote at the end of that century
“The White Man’s Burden,” (643) that was taken to mean that blacks
must accept their position as underlings. While a false interpretation, it shows
that many Confederates and sympathisers held the view that blacks and slaves
deserved to be oppressed even after the Civil War (1861-1864). TAOTS accurately
reflects the small town economy. The river trade is the centre of all commerce
and without it, town life would end. In Chapter Two of TAOTS, Ben Rogers, a
local boy, pretends to be a steamboat. This exemplifies how important the boats
were to the town. Everything in the town–the mill, the taverns–they all
depended on the trade from the river. The town, consisting of a church, a
school, a general store, taverns a mill and a docking area for the boats also
reflect how important the river really was. The minister’s fire and brimstone
sermons (35) preach against the evils of drink, gambling and lust, all of which
would have been demonstrated by the passing river sailors and conmen. In the
AOHF, the town life is not so much the focus of description as river life. But
it is the description of the treatment of slaves that truly stands out. Huck was
poor, but still he was socially above Jim because he was white and not owned.

TAOHF was set a few decades before the civil war so when Huck and Jim escaped
down the Mississippi and headed south, they were putting Jim in more peril. When
they took on board the King and the Duke these other travelers wanted to turn
Jim in. Many non-slave states actually had laws that allowed for the returning
of runaway slaves (Geise 109). Both TAOTS and AOHF are accurate in their
description of the situation (slave-wise and town-wise) at that time. Mark
Twain’s views about childhood and the subsequent loss of innocence are a product
of childhood experience growing up in Hannibal, Missouri (pop 500), a small town
on the Mississippi River. As a young boy, he enjoyed skipping school to go
fishing on the nearby island; playing with the off-limits Tom Blackenship
(Draper 3713), the son of the town drunk; or spending time with his sweetheart
Laura Hawkins (Thayer 5). Twain once had a harrowing experience as a child when
he got lost in a local cave with Laura. Living in the small river town, whose
only commerce was from the steamboat trade, he witnessed at least four murders (Sanderlin).

When he was eleven, his father died (Meltzer 75). He quit school


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