Society 2

Samuel Langhorne
Clemens
How society affects and reflects in his writings.


Often the environment and culture surrounding a writer will affect the styles and subjects of literature in any certain era (Local Color). William D. Howels, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James Russell Lowell are such writers who were under this influence. However, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, was not only under this influence but he wrote according to his current surroundings. Clemens was an observer, viewing the world through his eyes alone but with an unique endowed and profound sense of understanding. Clemens deep personal senses of right and wrong, time and place which he gained from his uncanny ability to see the world around him. Whatever the event, natural, supernatural or man made, often became a topic for serious discussion with friends while playing billiards and material for one of his stories (Time Line). Some subjects that were features in Clemens novels were social injustices and social criticism; and his views on government.

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“The rain…falls upon the just and the unjust alike; a thing which would not happened if I were superintending the rains affairs. No, I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust outdoors I would drown him” (World Literature 3721).


In the novel The Prince and the Pauper, Clemens was able to underscore some of the social follies and injustices of his own time without actually having to attack them directly in the novel. Clemens did this by satirically treating the social and legal conventions of Tudor England. Clemens then assumed his readers would recognize for themselves the parallels with their own time. “Hence, religious intolerance is the target of ‘In Prison,’ a chapter in which two women, who have kindly befriended Edward and Miles, are mercilessly burned at the stake because they are Baptists. Tom Cantly, as king, labors to change laws which are unduly harsh or blatantly unjust; and Edward himself learns of the unnecessary cruelty of prisons, as well as the nature of the kind of life poor people must endure as a result of their poverty” (American Literature 202).


However, Clemens major criticism of society, both Tudor and his own, ismistaking the outward appearances of men or their circumstances as a final gauge of their true worth. The novel suggests that under different circumstances, any man could be a king – just as Tom Canty, given the opportunity, learns to be one. Tom and Edward are equally intelligent and virtuous young boys, but each is born to a different kind of “court.” “Chance and circumstances alone determine much of our behavior and appearance. For Clemens, this was true for his own time as he felt it had been for Tudor England” (American Literature 203).


Scholars recognize in Clemens a man divided in outlook between comic and tragic perceptions of existence (World Literature 3713). “Through his career he looked back yearningly to the Mississippi, finding in his memories spiritual rejuvenation and inspiration. At the same time he was skeptical about the wisdom of humanity and the possibility of progress in human society. His longing for an idealized past as a haven from an increasingly hostile present is evident in most of his major works of fiction” (World Literature 3713). As a result, Clemens’ “work offers a compelling vision of the American frontier. In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, the Mississippi River exemplifies the frontier. Allowing Huck to escape the moral and social strictures of civilization. Huck confronted by the awesome power and beauty of nature, develops an awareness of the importance of such simple values as courage, honesty, and common sense” (World Literature 3714).

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a scathing social satire disguised as a young boy’s adventure. During the course of Huck’s trip down river with the runaway slave, Jim, Huck encounters the hypocrisy, greed, and cruelty of a ‘civilized’ society” (World Authors 1493). “I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (Huckleberry 15).This popular quote is an example of how Clemens criticized the human race and society.
Clemens used a variety of ways to get his opinions across to his readers,in most ways they may have worked. Not only did Clemens express his feelings about society but he also felt strongly about the government as well.


“There is a phrase which has grown so common in the world’s mouth that it has come to seem to have sense and meaning – the sense and meaning implied when it is used: that is a phrase, which refers to this or that or the other nation as possibly being ‘capable of self – government;’ and the implied sense of it is, that there has been nation somewhere, some time or other, which wasn’t capable of it – wasn’t as able to govern itself as some self – appointed specialists were or would be to govern it. The master minds of all nations, in all ages, have sprung, in affluent multitude, from the mass of the nation, and from the mass of the nation only – not from its privileged classes; and so, no matter what the nation’s intellectual grade was, whether high or low, the bulk of its ability was in the long ranks of its nameless and its poor, and so it never saw the day that it had not the material in abundance whereby to govern itself. Which is to ass-
ert an always self – proven fact: that even the best conditionattainable by its people; and that the same is true of kindred governments of lower grades all the way down to the lowest”(Opposition).


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court offered Clemens one of the best opportunities to attack the repressive and antidemocratic forces which he saw in the post – Civil War in America as well as in sixth century England (American Literature 190). “Through the Yankee, Twain transmits his belief that a government is only good if the bulk of the people benefit from it” (American Literature 187).
For Samuel Langhorne Clemens, his environment and culture surroundings affect his writings. Clemens was able to express his feelings openly through his novels, which were more critical than compliments to his society at that time. Clemens views that he displayed most frequently in his writings were that which was upon his current society and government. Clemens states what aspects that he does not like. “The more we know of the world in which Mark Twain lived, the deeper will be our understanding of his works” (Time Line).