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Ending in Mark Twain’s stories (Laith)

David Lodge states, “[A] last-minute twist is generally more typical of the short story than of the novel.” He also describes short stories as “end-oriented” since readers expect to reach the conclusion of the story quickly after the story starts.

In the stories by Mark Twain, one thing that was very interesting was how he was able to make the ending escalate really quickly yet make it sound so normal. Since the entirety of “The Story of The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” was essentially just listing the bad deeds Jim committed and how he got away with them, The author had to make the final deed worse than everything else he has done yet still maintain the same general format the story has been following. For example, Mark twain says, “And he grew up, and married and raised a large family, and brained them all with an ax one night and got wealthy…” in this excerpt from the ending paragraphs of the story mark twain describes a tragic event (Jim killed his entire family) yet he makes it sound so normal and continues to mention other things Jim has done as if they were all the same. The effect this creates is purely satirical. Twain’s story sheds light on how Sunday school books make small sins and big sins basically equal and both are punished similarly and severely.

Lodge quotes Philip Swallow when he talks about the advantage movies have over novels when it comes to endings. Swallow points out that when approaching the ending of a novel the reader knows exactly in how many pages the novel will end. However, in movies the director has the ability to end the movie whenever s/he pleases which could catch the audience off guard.

Although the stories in the collection are really short they are unpredictable and could still catch the reader off guard. For example, in “The Story of The Good little Boy Who Did not Prosper” with less than half a page left in the story Mark twain still manages to surprise the reader by killing the good boy in a really brutal way. Even though the reader knew the story was about the end and the boy’s life was miserable nobody expected the boy to be ripped apart to death. This really puts the reader in shock, as they have to see the kid they might feel bad for, get brutally dismantled and since it is in the end it is what most people will remember from this story. The effect of the violent ending is to emphasize on how the Sunday school books are built on lies. Twain makes it clear that the good boys don’t always live a happy life and even their ending could be brutal. The brutality was necessary because in Sunday school books the bad boys always face brutal divine punishment therefore to make his point the same had to happen to the good boy.
Between the works of Kate Chopin and Mark Twain, I think Twain was more successful in using the ending relatively more effectively. Kate Chopin and Mark Twain have different messages that they try to convey through their work. Chopin focuses on race issues and tries to humanize the relationship between the slaves and their masters while Twain is very satirical and attacks the faults in society’s thinking. He also challenges the beliefs that many hold. Twain’s stories generally escalate quickly and the level of action increases dramatically as mentioned earlier in the stories of the good and bad boys. The way Twain uses his endings makes the reader reflect on everything they know about a certain topic (or offend them if them if they were closed minded). The messages from them are also usually very obvious and explicit. However, the endings in Chopin’s stories don’t have a deep effect if only read from a shallow perspective or by children. The endings in Chopin’s stories require deep thought into them and background information about the time as well. For example, in “Beyond the Bayou” the reader that has no background knowledge of post civil war south might not understand the significance of La Folle choosing to stay in front of the house until Cheri is awake. While no background knowledge is needed to understand how the self-righteous child got his punishment, as the message is very clear.


3 Comments

  1. hmahmoud11 says:

    I agree with the points you make and I actually feel like the ending of stories is intertwined with the duration the author chooses for the story as the duration affects the narrative tempo and whether the story as its being told is fast paced or not. Since the duration of “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” is manipulated to show a fast tempo-ed story, the ending is affected as it comes fast and unexpected in some of Twain’s stories, as you pointed out, specifically in “The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper.”
    I like your comparison of Twain and Chopin’s endings and I also think that because Twain’s stories end so abruptly and in a straight-forward fashion, it affects the way the reader interprets the story, whereas understanding Chopin’s endings depended on the depth of the readers understanding.

  2. hamzaans says:

    Even though you know when the short story is going ton end, Twain still puts unexpected twists at the very end. Like in the “Good Little Boy” where he dies and in the “Bad Little Boy” where he murders his family. The ending is used to convey his point and make it stick in your mind by showing these brutal twists.

  3. kurdi33blog says:

    I think that Twain never fails to surprise the reader especially at the end of his short stories like hamza said because the reader thinks that the climax already occurred and they are not expecting any sudden changes but then twain unsuspectingly flips the mood and allows for a complete change like in “Recording Angel” how the individual being spoken about is going to hell and Abraham is weeping and mourning his loss. Also in “Adams Diary” Adam speaks about how he had misconceptions about Eve but ultimately he needed her and wanted to live with her outside of paradise.

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