Author Spotlight Mark Twain
As children, many of us were enamored by the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These two young boys who lived close to the Mississippi River had so many adventures that we could only imagine having. Despite being introduced way back in the 19th century, these boys are still two of America’s most-loved literary characters, known for their exuberant youth and all-American charm. These popular personas were the inception of one man by the name of Mark Twain, whose real name is Samuel L. Clemens.
Samuel L. Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. At the age of four, their family moved the bustling town of Hannibal, which later inspired the setting of his most popular works. Growing up in a large family was difficult for Clemens. His father had to work multiple jobs to feed the family. They stayed in Hannibal for 13 years, and it was an interesting place to grow up. The town was often host to circuses, minstrels, tradesmen, and entertainers. However, violence was also rampant. At a young age, Clemens witnessed murder twice. The fictional towns that Clemens later wrote into his book were the same: lively and cheerful, yet beneath the surface lurked something undesirable.
At age 12, Clemens had to become a printer’s apprentice after his father’s death. At 15, he got a job as a printer and occasional writer and editor at the Hannibal Western Union. At 21, he started learning how to pilot a steamboat on the Mississippi River and was licensed at 23. He soon found regular employment and loved his job. This was sadly cut short when the Civil War broke out on 1861. He joined the Confederate Army, but his service didn’t last long. At this point, he decided to head out West.
None of Clemens’s original plans worked out, and by 1862, he was in need of a regular job. He joined the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise as a reporter and started adopting the pen name Mark Twain. The name was steamboat slang for “12 feet of water.” He created news stories, editorials, and sketches. Clemens further honed his narrative style: funny and often satirical. He became one of the best-known storytellers in the West. At 34, he published The Innocents Abroad after a five-month cruise in the Mediterranean, which was the beginning of his rise to popularity.
In 1876, he published the first of his two most famous works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The book told the story of a young boy who grew up along the Mississippi River, in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri. Tom Sawyer was lively, charming, and had sharp wit, often getting into trouble for things like getting his friends to do his work for him. The young Tom also falls in love with Becky Thatcher but gets his heart broken and meets his best friend, Huckleberry Finn. Tom and Huck, sometimes with the accompaniment of Becky or their other friends, go on many adventures, and unearths the mischief that lurks in their town as darkness falls.
In 1884, the sequel to Tom Sawyer was published: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As the title suggests, the novel now tells the story of Tom’s best mate. The book was much like its prequel, except it was told entirely in the vernacular. Huckleberry Finn is also more of a satire towards racism. The book takes place directly after the ending of Tom Sawyer, now with both Tom and Huck having a considerable amount of money because of their earlier adventures. Throughout the novel, Huck struggles with the journey as well as the social climate.
Clemens, now better known as Twain, was greatly lauded for most of his life. He challenged status quo through his work, and was able to work toward changing America’s mindset for the better. He was awarded honorary degrees from both Oxford and Yale and was popular not only in America but also abroad.
Much like his town of Hannibal, Twain seemed to be of vibrant personality but had a lot of darkness hidden inside him. He had many personal struggles and jarring experiences such as the deaths of his children and his wife, and an unstable relationship with one of his daughters. He started becoming more and more pessimistic toward the end of his life and did not finish many of his projects.
Samuel Clemens died at the age of 74 on April 21, 1910. Despite the end of his life being full of misery, Mark Twain will forever be remembered in the spirit of his ink-and-paper sons, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
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