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Mark Twain And The South

Mark Twain And The South

Arthur G. Pettit
Copyright Date: 1974
Edition: 1
Pages: 236
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    Mark Twain And The South
    Book Description:

    The South was many things to Mark Twain: boyhood home, testing ground for manhood, and the principal source of creative inspiration. Although he left the South while a young man, seldom to return, it remained for him always a haunting presence, alternately loved and loathed. To follow his changing attitudes toward the South and its people is to observe the evolving opinions of many Americans during the era that bears the abusive name he gave it -- the Gilded Age. This is the first book on a major yet largely ignored aspect of the private life of Samuel Clemens and one of the major themes in Mark Twain's writing from 1863 until his death. Mr. Pettit clearly demonstrates that Mark Twain's feelings on race and region moved in an intelligible direction. The son of a poor but proud slave-holding family in the border South, Samuel Clemens was a product of his time and place. His "retreat" in 1861 to the Nevada territory, a stronghold of Northern sentiment, resulted in a hasty shift to anti-Southern views, born more of social pressures than of a genuine change of heart. This shift became stronger after his move to New York in 1866. Yet the South continued to pull him emotionally, becoming in his tangled imagination both the mythical Eden ofTom Sawyerand the symbol of white racial guilt ultimately expressed in the paradoxical figure of Roxana inPudd'nhead Wilson. At the same time, Mark Twain the humorist and jester to his age was slow to discard the racist jokes that were commonplace in his day. After his marriage into Eastern money and respectability, however, he gradually imposed a form of self-censorship that reflected his growing recognition of the horrors of white treatment of blacks. Mark Twain's return to the South in 1882 proved a deep disillusionment and a turning point in his thought and writings. The South was no longer Eden but Wasteland. The immediate results wereLife on the MississippiandHuckleberry Finn, both with strongly anti-Southern undercurrents. Ultimately he moved into a deeply pessimistic and sardonic vein in which the dream of racial brotherhood was forever dead and the black man was seen as leading the way toward a cosmic snuffing out of the human race. Mr. Pettit approaches his subject as a historian with a deep appreciation for literature. He bases his study on a wide variety of Mark Twain's published and unpublished works, including his notebooks, scrapbooks, and letters. An interesting feature is an examination of Clemens's relations with the only two black men he knew well in his adult years.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4878-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Mark Twain is an enigma. Like his creator Samuel Clemens and the South which nurtured him, he is a great tangle of tensions and dualities. If Southern historians have had trouble separating Southern fact from Southern fiction, the student of Mark Twain has a similar problem, for the man was caught up in virtually the same mixture of fascinations, myths, and half-truths that bemused and tormented the South. Southerners were supposed to be intrigued by Ancestry and by Cavalier origins. So too was Mark Twain. Southerners were supposed to be plagued by the Past, to be haunted by memories of...

  5. 1 Convinced & Content: The Missouri Years
    (pp. 11-20)

    Mark Twain’s confusion over the South and over his relationship to her was grounded in his ancestry and in his first seventeen years in Missouri. Though he liked to claim that his roots went deep into the egalitarian soil of the valley of American democracy, neither Samuel Clemens nor his forebears really saw themselves that way. Both sides of the Clemens family believed they sprang from cavalier stock. His mother boasted a wondrously exiguous connection with the earls of Durham; his father claimed a more credible link with a Roundhead judge named Gregory Clemens, who lost his head for conspiring...

  6. 2 The Most Conceited Ass in the Territory
    (pp. 21-34)

    When Sam Clemens left Hannibal in May 1853 to begin eight years of knocking about in the East as an itinerant typesetter and then in the South as a river pilot, his letters home reveal, for the first time, the extent to which he had accepted Missouri prejudices against “fat, lazy ‘niggers.’” From the Crystal Palace Fair in New York he wrote his mother that he found the town of Syracuse especially interesting, because the court house had once been “surrounded with chains and companies of soldiers, to prevent the rescue of McReynold’s niggers, by the infernal abolitionists.” Clemens was...

  7. 3 Bless You, I’m Reconstructed
    (pp. 35-50)

    Between 1867 and 1874 Clemens’s life took a sharp and spectacular turn. Within eight years he married into Eastern respectability and a quarter-million dollars, built a lavish mansion in Hartford, Connecticut, and in general installed himself as “an immovable fixture among the other rocks of New England.”² In part through the good offices of others but primarily through luck, talent, and shrewdness in stage-managing his own affairs, Mark Twain rose spectacularly in financial, social, and literary status—altogether an intoxicating experience that left Clemens himself a little giddy.

    In this brief span of time the still plastic persona called Mark...

  8. 4 White Feuds & Black Sambos
    (pp. 51-64)

    What Gradually changed Mark Twain’s artistic image of black people was his discovery of how he might make use of them as part of the slow process by which he began to reconstruct the idyll of Hannibal. The central drama of Mark Twain’s life as a man of letters was his discovery of a usable past. Always his own biographer, his most astounding autobiographical discovery was how he might convert the antebellum South, from which he had consciously fled, into what Henry Nash Smith has called the Matter of Hannibal and the Matter of the River.² In the decade between...

  9. 5 Paradise Lost: The Mississippi South Revisited
    (pp. 65-80)

    In the autumn of 1874 Joseph Twichell, a Congregational pastor in Hartford and a close friend of the Clemens family, convinced Clemens that his years as a Mississippi River pilot held unusual literary appeal. Clemens “hadn’t thought of that before.”² Once reminded that he was uniquely equipped to translate an important part of the country’s past into literature, he was eager to do so. The result was a series of articles published in theAtlanticin 1876 under the title “Old Times on the Mississippi.” These articles contain some of Mark Twain’s finest writing and constitute the best account of...

  10. 6 A Lot of Prejudiced Chuckleheads: The White Southerner in Huckleberry Finn
    (pp. 81-92)

    TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finnis Mark Twain’s masterpiece, the product of a brief period in his career when he brought his talent and his view of the damned human race into a constructive relationship.² It is also his most ambitious examination of the society which nurtured him and his most intense denunciation of the five Southern institutions he had long singled out for special condemnation: slavery, violence, bigotry, ignorance, and Sir Walter Scott’s jejune romanticism. Slavery was gone when Mark Twain wrote his novel, but the other four Southern “afflictions” were, as he observed inLife on the Mississippi,...

  11. 7 Heroes or Puppets? Clemens, John Lewis, & George Griffin
    (pp. 93-106)

    Nigger Jim is a composite portrait of three black men Clemens knew intimately or casually during his lifetime. One was Uncle Daniel, the Missouri slave whom Clemens vaguely remembered as a boy.² Another was John Lewis, a handyman on the farm where the Clemenses spent their summers. By far the most important source of inspiration for Nigger Jim was George Griffin, the Hartford butler who served the Clemenses during the eighteen years in which Nigger Jim appeared in three books.

    Uncle Daniel’s importance as a source of literary inspiration afterThe Gilded Agehas been greatly exaggerated.³ John Lewis, on...

  12. 8 Everything All Busted Up & Ruined: The Fate of Brotherhood in Huckleberry Finn
    (pp. 107-122)

    Nigger Jim is the conscience ofHuckleberry Finn. More than Huck he is the moral standard by which other characters in the novel are measured and found wanting.² This black man is a new kind of character in American fiction, a highly complex and original creation.³

    Huck learns compassion from Jim. Without this black man the boy’s rebelliousness would be confined to petty stealing, lying, putting his feet up on the widow’s furniture, and running away. Jim makes Huck’s revolt more than a personal reaction to etiquette and niceties; when Jim is taken from the raft and put in prison,...

  13. 9 We Ought to Be Ashamed of Ourselves: Mark Twain’s Shifting Color Line, 1880-1910
    (pp. 123-138)

    In the last three decades of his life Mark Twain tried to practice some of the attitudes of brotherhood he had introduced intoHuckleberry Finn. Interracial harmony may be doomed to failure, but that did not exempt him from doing what he could to prove himself a personal exception. He was not always successful and he did not always employ the same strategy or technique. When upset over racial atrocities, he saw the racial situation as a moral problem, which indeed it was. When concerned with collecting raw material for his art, he saw blacks as fallible individuals, which indeed...

  14. 10 The Black & White Curse: Pudd’nhead Wilson & Miscegenation
    (pp. 139-156)

    Notwithstanding his fondness for black culture and causes, by the 1890s Mark Twain had a serious, even shattering color problem. On the one hand he had persuaded himself that persons of dark skin were physically more attractive than those of white skin, and he said so. Moreover he was convinced that the greater tragedy of the South was not miscegenation, but the curse that white Southerners had placed upon it.The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilsonis Mark Twain’s most eloquent declaration of conscience on these two subjects.

    Yet Clemens also had a private, more or less conscious craving to find...

  15. 11 From Stage Nigger to Mulatto Superman: The End of Nigger Jim & the Rise of Jasper
    (pp. 157-174)

    The last two decades of Mark Twain’s life brought him international acclaim, loneliness, and despair. Always subject to seizures of remorse² and self-recrimination, his sense of guilt and paroxysms of rage grew in the 1890s to the point where he began to question his sanity. Beneath the public image of the crotchety, crusty old sage, parading in his white suit, walrus mustache, and black cigar, lay a bitter and neurotic cynic who believed, he said, in nothing. Life had no dignity or meaning. The mass of men were cowards, and he was in the front row, carrying a banner. Man...

  16. 12 No Peace, No Brotherhood
    (pp. 175-180)

    “Which Was It?” was Mark Twain’s last ambitious attempt to write about the South and the relationship between the two races. Although he tried to recall Huck, Tom, and Nigger Jim for more stories, each attempt was vitiated by the fact that his childhood Eden was part of the South. And that South was not, and probably never had been, the happy valley of his youth. Instead it was, and probably always had been, a wasteland of the soul. There had been no Southern Eden and there was to be no Southern Canaan.

    Becoming fully aware at last that his...

  17. Appendix: “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed”
    (pp. 181-188)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 189-214)
  19. Primary Sources
    (pp. 215-220)
  20. Index
    (pp. 221-224)