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Comparison of Titles for Twain and Chopin

The Title: Lodge’s Ideas applied to Mark Twain’s short stories

David Lodge states that, “titles could indicate a theme . . . promise a certain kind of setting and atmosphere . . .” In Mark Twain’s short stories, the titles tell the story. For example, “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief,” contains both the character of the story and the end as well. It is clear that the boy in the story is a bad boy but he “doesn’t come to grief” meaning he receives no punishment and does not face any trials for the trouble he causes or the sins he commits. This is proven in the story when Jim does many bad things including the murder of his family but continues to live a happy and successful life. Another example of a title telling a story would be “The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper.” It is clear that the story will tell the tale of a good little boy who does everything right yet receives no recognition for it and is unsuccessful. Again, the story proves that Jacob Blivens is a good little boy just like those from the Sunday School books yet no matter how good he tries to be and no matter how pure his intentions are, Jacob always gets in trouble. In the end, he does not prosper.

Lodge also stated that titles “bring into sharper focus of what the novel is about.” Mark Twain’s short stories began to contain religious connections and references. For example, Mark Twain’s story of Adam’s Diary is a clear reference to the story of Adam. The reader assumes that the story will be religious due to the title yet once they begin to read the story, it is discovered that the story is completely different than the one of Adam and Eve from the Bible. Instead of telling the story as it is, Twain completely changes the story to the awkward and difficult interactions between Adam and Eve. Another example would be “The Recording Angel.” The shorty story is fairly straightforward. It is about the recording angel which is believed to record an individual’s good and bad deeds. The story is of the Angel listing the good and bad deeds after the death of the individual Andrew Langdon who died in New York.

Mark Twain’s short stories impact the reader’s view and condition them to see through a very specific lens. The stories with the longer titles told the story and practically told the reader what to expect whereas the titles with religious references prepared the reader to read the story through a religious lens. By doing this, Twain is able to present his message for each story much more clearly and there is no ambiguity in what is being said.

Comparison between Kate Chopin and Mark Twain’s short story titles.

The title style for Kate Chopin’s short stories is different when compared to Mark Twain’s short story titles. For example, as David Lodge states, “titles could indicate a theme.” For both Chopin and Twain, the titles do indicate a theme. The difference is that Kate Chopin’s titles indicate the item that needs focus in the story. For example, in “Beyond the Bayou,”  the title makes the reader focus on La Folle’s struggle with the boundaries of the bayou. Also, in “The Lilies,” the focus is entirely on the significance of the lilies and their meaning/impact within the story. Alternatively, Mark Twain used his titles to tell the story; nothing was left to imagination (which is true for many of Mark Twain’s short story titles). In “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief,” the plot of the story is in the title. There is a boy who does bad things but is not punished for his actions. This is shown to be true when Jim, the bad little boy, does very bad things but grows up to live a successful life.

Both Kate Chopin and Mark Twain chose the title for each story based on how they believed that the theme would be best portrayed. The titles indicate the theme and force the reader to read and interpret the story through a very specific lens. This makes it easier for the reader to understand the main point of each short story and the message that the story is meant to portray.


1 Comment

  1. kbdoyle09 says:

    I think that Twain’s titles serve to underscore his satirical presentation of conventional Sunday school stories, where everything is made so obvious that it ends up bearing little resemblance to reality. Twain slaps us in the face with reality before the story even begins.

    Chopin’s titles, however, like her stories themselves, have two layers. As you stated, the title of “Beyond the Bayou” focuses the reader on the symbolic significance of the bayou and can lead the younger, more naive reader to understand the story to be about a woman who overcomes her fears through her love for a child. But then there’s another layer understood by the adult reader with an understanding of the historical context of the setting, one that indicates the complex moral and social realities that existed (and perhaps still exist) in the wake of the Civil War.

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