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Showing and Telling in Mark Twain’s Short Stories

Showing and telling is a technique used by writers to give their readers the ability to either directly know the situation and atmosphere or to be able to create their own imagery through the writing. Showing is when an author gives an in-depth description of the atmosphere, surroundings, and gives the reader the ability to feel like using their own senses such as smelling, hearing, seeing, and touch through the characters. When an author tells something it is more straightforward and lacks much depth in meaning. Telling may be merely a line to tell the reader where they are or what is happening without much detail or explanation.

Mark Twain immediately uses telling to create a simple but usually long title which gives an overall view of the story such as, “The Story of the Little Boy who did not Prosper” His use of telling allows the reader to already understand the plot of the story and easily guess the ending of it. He then uses showing to begin his story where he explains the story of Jacob and gives the reader an image of a perfect child in the intro, “ONCE there was a good little boy by the name of Jacob Blivens. He always obeyed his parents, no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were; and he always learned his book, and never was late at Sabbath school. He would not play hookey, even when his sober judgment told him it was the most profitable thing he could do. None of the other boys could ever make that boy out, he acted so strangely.”

The use of showing by Twain gives the reader an idea of the character and even though the ending is given away in the title he goes on to show how the story ends, keeping the reader intrigued but expectant. He similarly does this in his story of, “The Bad Little Boy Who Did Not come to Grief” He uses telling to give the reader a vise versa thought of the story with Jacob. He uses showing in the same manner in which he introduces Jim as being a mischievous boy who does everything a person shouldn’t do,” Once there was a bad little boy whose name was Jim—though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was strange, but still it was true that this one was called Jim.” Twain uses showing in this intro to introduce the main character and the type of child the boy was quickly shifting to Jims first act of stealing jam from the pantry and continuing onto his next bad deed. The use of showing and telling allows the author to gain the readers attention and Twain uses large instances of showing as seen in his introductions and small areas of telling like his titles which shows the relation to the story. By “telling” she gives us direct information and by “showing” she gives her reader an understanding of his characters and who they are as individuals and what actions led to them being as they were.


3 Comments

  1. sather10 says:

    I agree with your statement of how a readers perception can be defined by just reading the title of the story such as the bad little boy who didn’t come to grief. By just reading the title you can tell how the story is going to play out. I also liked how you mentioned how the author Mark Twain has the ability to show the senses to the readers such as smelling, hearing, seeing and touching. What this does is it causes the readers to stay focused and interested.

  2. kurdi33blog says:

    I agree with your notion how Twain uses telling to instantaneously get what hes trying to say to the reader by making a significant impact from the titles clever wording, that just tells the gist of the story such as “the Bad little Boy” who ended up murdering his family.

  3. nayaabkhan99 says:

    Titles are very significant for any story and I agree that the title shapes the reader’s perception. The following statement, “even though the ending is given away in the title he goes on to show how the story ends, keeping the reader intrigued but expectant,” is very true. Even though I knew the endings of the story, I was interested in the story. One significant detail about the comparison between Twain’s titles and the ending of the story is that even though the ending is expected, there is always a twist that was unforeseen. For example, in “The Bad Little Boy who Didn’t Come to Grief,” the reader knew that the boy was going to live a happy life. What was so unexpected was the way the Mark Twain nonchalantly added that Jim murdered his wife and kids but lived a happy and successful life. So the title indicated the ending but not the effect of Jim not being reprimanded.

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