Mark Twain, as interesting and funny as he is made out to be in modern society, was obviously not the guy you wanted to hang out with to give you some optimism. His jokes, observations, and his stories, all find a common root in the intersection of societal criticism.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain taunts romanticized novels by creating a plot with less than ideal situations, characters, and actions. Perhaps it is not that Mark Twain does not want a perfect world, but rather that he sees that darker side and chooses to acknowledge it unlike many other people of his time. In “Papers of the Adam Family”, Twain describes how we achieve excellence in even the corrupt parts of our lives. He says that society is “wonderful in its hunger for money and its indifference as to how it is acquitted…wonderful in its exhibitions of poverty” (Twain). We can see Twain mirror this concept in Huck Finn with the duke and the dauphin. These men are wonderful at ripping people off to earn money. While their schemes could be similar to those found in romanticized adventure stories, the king and the dauphin’s are characterized as corrupt because of what they did to the Wilkes family. They feel remorse and have no limits as to what they would be willing to do for money. This in itself is and embodiment of Twain’s cynical philosophy: there are no limits that we will obey when we are in search of something. That’s a problem.
Now, more than ever, is Mark Twain’s cynicism is pertinent in our lives. While corruption obviously existed during his time, Twain never experienced the never ending war, the never ending recession, and the never ending onslaught of political bulls*$%^. We also have become quite obsessed with luxuries that Mark Twain could have never imagined. Twain also comments on civilization in “Papers of the Adam Family”, saying “It is a civilization which has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life…it has invented a thousand useless luxuries and turned them into necessities” (Twain). How often do we find ourselves wanting more of everything; we want more money, more food, more things, more happiness, more love, etc. We are never content. We, as a society, keep inventing things that have no use other than to make other people want something. Take, for instance, my father. He went to China recently and came back with a “selfie stick”. It is essentially a long rod that you attach your phone to in order to take good selfies. Of course I thought it was pretty cool and I know a lot of people want these, but is there any practical use? Is there any use other than for creating a
need want in others? No, and that’s exactly what Twain is saying. We no longer have any want, desire, or even need to focus on our own wellbeing anymore. Money does not buy happiness.
Mark Twain, while considered a h8ter, was one of few people during his era that had enough integrity to be a realist. Romanticizing the world is a task that any writer can do. Mark Twain uses The Adventures of Huck Finn to satirize the romanticized society he lived in. By reading “Papers of the Adam Family”, one could obviously tell that Mark Twain had a grudge against superficiality. Huck is a kid, an orphan perhaps, that has no valid past and no potential future at being a use in a society that violates basic human rights. He is not a hero. He is just a person with real problems like any of us. Huck moves past his racist society on to a new chapter of his life out west. Unfortunately for us, we’re stuck.
Mark Twain was a man of many words. Thankfully for us, his opinions catalyzed reform and criticism. Twain is a household name. Hopefully it stays the way.