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Blogpost 2: The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain (The Beginning)

In David Lodge’s chapter on the beginning, he states that “WHEN DOES A NOVEL BEGIN? The question is almost as difficult to answer as the question, when does the human embryo become a person? Certainly the creation of a novel rarely begins with the penning or typing of its first words. Most writers do some preliminary work, if it is only in their heads.” In “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” there was a lot of preliminary work that Mark Twain had to go through to write this story. This story and the “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” are both parodies of what Sunday schools taught and of their books and pamphlets. These stories always showed that the good boy would do well in life while the bad boy would get punished almost immediately. Mark Twain’s preliminary work was reading many of these pamphlets and realizing how ridiculous they really were. The “Bad Little Boy” was written before “The Good Little Boy” which is the counterpart. Writing the “Bad Little Boy” could have even be considered the preliminary work for the “Good Little Boy”.

“When does the beginning of a novel end, is another difficult question to answer. Is it the first paragraph, the first few pages, or the first chapter? However, one defines it, the beginning of a novel is a threshold, separating the real world we inhabit from the world the novelist has imagined. It should therefore, as the phrase goes, ‘draw us in’”. In “Letter from the Recording Angel” we are immediately draw in by the name of a real person, Andrew Langdon. This story breaks the threshold of real life and the story by pretending that an angel is recording and granting his wishes. This effectively draws us in.

“We are not yet familiar with the author’s tone of voice, range of vocabulary, syntactic habits. We read a book slowly and hesitantly, at first. We have a lot of new information to absorb and remember, such as the characters’ names, their relationships of affinity and consanguinity, the contextual details of time and place, without which the story cannot be followed.” In “A True Story…”, we as the readers are not used to how Aunt Rachel talks, and how she describes her life is not familiar to us. We have to get used to her dialect and syntactic habits that unlike any other works of Mark Twain because this story is repeated word for word. We get into her story hesitantly because of the unfamiliar dialect.

“Many novels begin with a “frame-story” which explains how the main story was discovered, or describes it being told to a fictional audience.” In “A True Story…” Mark Twain tells the story of Aunt Rachel within another story. He states in the title that he repeated word for word. The main story was discovered by a fictional character asking “Aunt Rachel” about her story and how she lived long with little trouble. Then she goes on to tell her story.

1 Comment

  1. kbdoyle09 says:

    Your comments about the syntactical challenges for the reader when starting to read “A True Story” are very insightful. This linguistic difficulty mirrors and underscores the difficulty of the White reader to understand the extent of what Aunt Rachel has suffered.

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