Many of Mark Twain’s works are heavily critical of topics such as religion and social divides. He uses satire to depict these appraisals efficiently, and one of the satirical elements he employs is coincidence. Interestingly, Twain utilizes it in a differing way to its traditional usage but still manages to achieve the same effect.
In order to criticize representations of good and bad boys in Sunday school books, Mark Twain wrote two complementary stories: “The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” and “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief”. He wrote two separate plots involving two very different boys. One wants to be the perfect embodiment of a good Christian boy while the other is the quintessential ‘bad boy’ that is illustrated in the Sunday school books.
The presumed result of the actions done by both boys is overthrown continuously. Jim, the bad boy, never faces the consequences for his misdeeds while Jacob, the good boy, is continually punished despite his moral behavior. At the end of each story the boys have entirely contrasting fates: Jim “is universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.” while Jacob dies a violent death while trying to conduct a heroic deed.
Both “The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” and “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” are stories that show a lack of coincidence because of how frequently the boy’s lives oppose the Sunday school stories. If Jim were to be ever caught and punished for one of his misdeeds, or if Jacob was rewarded for his honorable conduct, then that would count as coincidence. By having both of the boy’s lives so thoroughly contradict what they learn, Twain drifts into the realm of irony rather than coincidence.
Furthermore, Mark Twain mocks Calvinist ideology and the whole concept of ‘Sunday School boy stories’ by portraying that the plots of these books rely purely on luck. The basis of Calvinist ideas is the belief in fate and, therefore, disbelief in coincidence. Twain heavily critiques this by portraying Sunday school books as dependent on coincidence. Whether that entails the good boy caricature somehow stumbling upon the bad boys up to no good by luck or a boy who is framed for a misdeed is coincidently saved by a passerby who saw the truth.
Another short story that Twain uses to mock religion is “Extracts From Adams Diary.” It is fundamentally a parody of the Genesis creation narrative. It is peppered through with happenstances from Eve coincidentally carrying only the forbidden apples when Adam is hungry to her finding baby Cain in the forest. The presence of coincidence is especially ironic in this case because as previously mentions, one the core beliefs in religion is predestination.
“A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It” also displays the usage of coincidence. It is a short story that starts off as the narrator listens to his slave—Aunt Rachel—tell the condensed story of her life after he mentions that she seems so joyous and burden-free. Eventually, the voice of the narrator is overtaken by Aunt Rachel as she tells her story of loss at the hands of slave auctions. All seven of her children are separated from her and sold as slaves, and through coincidence, she is somehow able to find one of her sons: Henry.
Usually, authors use coincidence as a plot device to imitate real life symmetries or as a Horatian comedic element. Twain, on the other hand, does the opposite; despite his works being satire, he does not use an excess of coincidence and instead limits it. By doing this, he allows the tone of his compositions to become more Juvenalian which in turn allows the messages he puts in them to be more impactful.
Twain, Mark. The best short stories of Mark Twain. Edited by Lawrence I. Berkove, Modern Library, 2004.
Lodge, David. The art of fiction. Vintage, 2011.
The sense of place is used to generate a strong feeling of the character or narrator and which somehow connects with the character. In the stories of Lodge, the use of “the sense of place” is one characteristic used throughout these stories is meant to create a special sense in which the reader understands the events that led up to a certain meaning of the story. The sense of place creates an identity that relates to the story with its nostalgic memory.
The sense of place has a strong meaning behind the meaning of the story and also has a strong and deep feeling that is felt by the visitor. In some stories, the sense of place might not affect the development of the story when it is presented but it will develop the story at the end. The sense of place is usually reflected upon by the narrator and affects the narrators or the character and view of different aspects of life. Diction is often used to describe the sense of place in the story as well as metaphors and other literary devices. The sense of different places can be used to make a connection between the experiences, which can be used to tell both sides of a story.
The sense of place depicts the narrator’s point of view. The sense of place can also cause time shift, which is used in the story “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” the sense of place is used to sift the time from the change from his childhood to his adulthood. The sense of place can emphasize the use of satire, another example of the sense of place is in the story “The Story of The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”, the church which is a sense of place in the story is used to implement the use of satire in the story. Overall the sense of theme is the backbone to most of these literary devices that are used in the story.
The sense of place is used to capture the different experiences of Jacob, throughout the story. “This was the whole secret of it. He believed in the good little boys they put in the Sunday-school books; he had every confidence in them”, the Sunday school was used to present the good actions of Jacob, the Sunday school is meant to sow the good-willed connection between Jacob and his morals. “When he found Jim Blake stealing apples and went under the tree to read to him about the bad little boy who fell out of the neighbor’s apple tree, and broke his arm, Jim fell out of the tree too, but he fell on Him and broke his arm”. The place of the apple tree was meant to signify and resemble the bad that happens to the good and is used to explain the writers use of humor, wherein the series of short stories shows that the good get into trouble but the bad get away with it. The apple tree is the sense of place where the boy had a bad experience and is emphasized the main event in the story. The sense of place is also significant because it helps the development of the story, in which the reader later uses to reflect upon the story itself. The use of “sense of place”, is used to trail the experiences of Jacob which would affect the narrator or the characters view the story.
In “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It”, was about a white man talking about his slave, and how she hasn’t experienced hardship in her life. “We were sitting on the porch of the farm-house, on the summit of the hill and “Aunt Rachel” was sitting respectfully below our level, on the steps, she was our servant she was colored”. The porch was meant to resemble the place where the white man and his slave had a conversation about her life hardship. The staircase to the porch was meant to signify the memory of the conversation, the staircase set the setting of the story and was meant to help the reader reflect upon.
The sense of place is used to create a memory in which allows the reader to remember the certain feeling or event of the character in the story. The sense of place in the short story is used as a backbone and introduction that carries out throughout the story and is also used to ring nostalgic and reminiscent memories of the story.
Notable literary figure David Lodge published a work entitled The Art of Fiction. This work focuses on a variety of literary features and analyzes their usage and effect in works of fiction. One key section in his work is the section written about The Unreliable Narrator. The unreliable narrator refers to the narrator of a work in which, either through context or otherwise, it is made clear that the narrator cannot be relied upon to tell the truth of the story.
If everything he or she says is palpably false, that only tells us what we know already, namely that a novel is a work of fiction (Lodge 154)
Most often, the unreliable narrator is used in First Person narration, as an omniscient narrator is seldom unreliable. However, this is not written in stone. It is possible to have an unreliable narrator who is a third person narrator.
One example of a writer who uses the third person unreliable narrator to enhance the meaning of his works is Mark Twain. In several of his works, the unreliable narrator is used not only to add to the story, but also to serve the entire purpose of the works writing.
The point of using an unreliable narrator is indeed to reveal in an interesting way the gap between appearance and reality (Lodge 155)
This directly ties into the first two stories written by Mark Twain, entitled “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” and “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”, an omniscient narrator serves as a subtle but definite version of the unreliable narrator. The statements and comments provided by the narrator are not untrue or misleading; rather, they convey a sense of ultra naivete that the reader can spot and use to understand the meaning of the work.
In the first story, “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief”, the unreliable narrator is used to provide a commentary on the simple Sunday-school morals that the church provides. Throughout the work, the narrator follows the actions of a ‘bad little boy’ who doesn’t follow the rules, and who lies and cheats and steals as he sees fit. The narrator, rather than simply describing the actions of the boy or denouncing them, consistently declares his shock at the way the boy (Jim) could get away with the bad things that he did. He regularly compared it to the sunday school books, in which some kind of divine intervention would deliver the bad children with karmic retribution for their misdeeds.
The tone of the narrator is always that of surprise. He or she is shocked that Jim can go through life unpunished. The regular comparisons to the sunday school books are a message from the author; Twain is using the narrator to convey to the reader how foolish it is to believe in and teach these books to children. The entire story hinges on the naivete of the narrator and how it makes him an unreliable commentator. By taking it to such an extreme, Twain makes it clear that the intent is to show how foolish it is to share in the narrator’s unwavering trust in the morals of the church, and by extension, how foolish the church was in delivering these morals to children, especially when the adults at the time were often being rewarded for those same negative actions. In the same vein, he manages to criticize the church for measuring success in materialistic terms and teaching that message to children. In this story, the narrator gives the story a purpose; without him or her to comment and draw comparisons, the story would have no purpose.
The inverse of this happens in the story “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”. In this story, the (apparently same) narrator compares the actions of a good boy with the actions of the Sunday school books. This time, as the boy attempts to do good, misfortune and suffering befall him at every turn. The boy himself regularly attempts to model his behavior after the Sunday school books, getting into more and more trouble, culminating in his unfortunate death in a massive explosion. Once again, the narrator comments on how unusual it is for the story of a good and pious child to end as it did. This time, the message is even less subtle and more obvious, almost being stated outright in the ending of the story. It reads true in the following quote:
“Thus perished the good little boy who did the best he could, but didn’t come out according to the books. Every boy who ever did as he did prospered, except him. His case is truly remarkable. It will probably never be accounted for.”
The point of an unreliable narrator is… to show how human beings distort or conceal the latter. This need not be a conscious, or mischievous, intention on their part (Lodge 155)
This, more human usage of the unreliable narrator occurs in two of Twain’s other works. In the case of the story “Extracts From Adam’s Diary”, Twain tells the story in the perspective of Adam, discovering Eve and the world around them both before and after the apple was eaten. In this story, the unreliable narrator is used interestingly – the telling of the story in this way provides a context about the story of mankind’s fall from heaven by providing a new context for all of the works. By telling the story in this manner, through the eyes of an adapting Adam, it defamiliarizes the infamous story and allows the reader to see it from a new perspective. When Adam is confused by Eve, we understand the story further. When Adam first discovers Cain, he is confused by its existence, comparing it to a fish, a kangaroo, a bear, and eventually a boy. Throughout the story, the reader is made to re-examine what was already known through the lens of an individual experiencing it for the first time. This recontextualization of the work provides the reader with context for the fall of man – Eve was not tempted in the way that the bible depicts her, but curious about an unknown. Adam was not ashamed in the way the bible depicted, but uninterested. By using such an inexperienced narrator to describe such a well known event, the audience gains a new understanding about the story of the bible. We begin to question religion as a whole and its depiction of Adam and Eve.
This is taken even further in the story “Eve’s Diary”. In this story, we repeat the events of “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”, only changing to the perspective of Eve. Once again, the same story is told through the eyes of a different narrator and the narrator’s inexperience, like with the narrator of the first two stories, allows the reader to realize the “truth” about these classic stories. Here, we see Eve’s intentions when pursuing Adam, and why she would name all things and ‘pester’ him so. We understand her perspective and gain a newfound understanding of why she ate the apple, not as an act of rebellion or succumbing to temptation, but simple inexperience.
It is that action, of revealing something which the audience was not aware and adding to the fabric of the story, which is described by Lodge as the purpose behind using the unreliable narrator. It is to this end where Twain uses it so expertly in his short stories, in order to infuse a meaning into the work that would be otherwise impossible to add.
“Hemingway rejects traditional rhetoric, he instead implies it in a more meaningful way”.
As one learns the truth of their surroundings they either adapt to understand it or are confused by it. David Lodges satirical ideology can be seen within Mark Twain’s stories through the usage of repetition. Repetition places emphasis on a certain word or action, and when a word is repeated it is often compared to other instances of it being used. Within both of Mark Twain’s stories of “The Story of The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” and “The Story of The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” Mark Twain’s conveys satirical messages through Ernest Hemingway’s style of repetition.
Within the first short story Mark Twain uses key terms repeatedly to show their importance. For example, within the story it repeats the difference in the protagonist’s name and how it is Jim and not the James of the bad boys in the typical Sunday school stories. For example, “But it was different with this fellow. He was named Jim”, “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.” This was all to convey the notion that “everything turned out differently with him from the way it does to the bad James in the books.” The stories focus is on Jim’s misdeeds as a child. However, when Jim becomes an adult his violent actions are glossed over.
In the opposite short story of The Story of The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper it provides the complimentary message. Even good members of society can be unfairly incriminated by society. This is exemplified through the repeated examples of Jim doing foul actions and walking away scot free while at times punishing Jacob for his misdeeds. “Jim fell out of the tree too, but he fell on him, and broke his arm and Jim wasn’t hurt at all.” The good boy Jacob learns that society doesn’t reward its members based on their good behavior. He learns like all mature individuals of the world of the harsh possibility that society may not punish the wicked but actually reward them. He is confused and angry at such a realization and dies regretful. “Whatever this boy did, he got into trouble. The very things the boys in the books got rewarded for turned out to be about the most unprofitable things he could invest in.
His satire can be seen through the way the story is told and the narrators reactions to it. Twain makes the reader realize the hypocrisy adults ultimately accept in society. Adults teach their kids to abide by certain ideals that aren’t necessarily true in the real world. They participate in a morally corrupt, materialistic society and accept it. The bad boy realizes that the ideals taught are not the truth and uses it to his advantage to commit bad deeds while benefiting from the people beside him. In the end he becomes praised and looked up to within society while committing the atrocities that he did. This is clearly seen within the last few lines of the story as it depicts him as a respected man within society and part of the cities “legislature” despite having cheated and killed members of his own family. This abrupt twist depicts how we elect those that are morally depraved and place them in positions of power and respect when they deserve none.
Within “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It” the character “Misto C” doubts the hardship of his “Aunt Rachel” as she seems to never be gloomy. This shows both the carelessness and ignorance of the privileged when looking at those of lower status. “Misto C” could have never guessed that his “Aunt Rachel” struggled as she seemed fine and jolly on the exterior. He never payed attention to her struggles and assumed that she never had any trouble within her 60 years of life because of her ever-smiling face. This can be seen when he asks, “Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?”. The subject in question Aunt Rachel replies “Misto C, is you in arnest” (earnest), incredulous that he could possibly believe she’s lived a life without hardship especially because she was, as he put it “colored” and “our servant”. She goes on to reveal her life which was filled with loss. The loss of her husband and six of her seven kids. The only comfort in her life is her reuniting with her last son. Repetition can be seen here to show Aunt Rachels extreme anger and personality. These emotions destroy the notion which “Misto C” came up with which is she’s lived without any trouble. She repeats a phrase her mother used to say in times of extreme anger. “I want you to understan’ dat i wa’n’t bawn in de mash to be fool’ by trash! I ‘s one o’ de ole Blue Hens Chickens, I is!”. The second mention of this phrase is when her son tore his wrist and hurt his head her mother said the same thing and bandaged the child herself as nobody else did. “So I says dat word, too, when I’s riled.” The third instance is when some of the young black soldiers went into the kitchen and disturbed her which is how her son started recollecting his memories. After Rachel does recognize her son she “oh, no, Misto C, I aint had no trouble. A’n no joy!” Mark Twain subtly refers to the lack of empathy and ignorance that the higher echelons of society have. This belief that Aunt Rachel lived a life with no troubles is invalid as seen in the cases of repetition of the phrase only occurs in times of anger or distraught.
Within the “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” Adam initially dislikes the changes that Eve brings to “the Garden of Eden”. The stereotypical views he holds about Eve seems to encompass stereotypical views about women as well. She proposes new names, rules and creates change within the Garden. He complains of these changes and deems them “unnecessary” and extra.” “There seems to be too much legislation, too much fussing, and fixing, and tidying up.” Another example of this would be the “Keep off the grass” sign. This was a sign that was put up by Eve. This action shows how Adam didn’t want the changes that occurred initially with Eves arrival but seems to accept her antics later. Twain uses societies stereotypical characteristics of women to portray them in a negative light within Adams diary. This is done by emphasizing the actions of Eve that displease Adam. For example, on Tuesday Adam reports that “she has littered the whole estate with execrable names and offensive signs: This way to the whirlpool”. One problem Adam has is the inability to question Eve and her stereotypical attitude of constant nagging and never being satisfied. “It is best not to ask her, she has such a rage for explaining”. This coupled with the amount of times which Eve is unsatisfied with Adam leaves him frustrated. “not satisfactory to her, went over in a tub- still not satisfactory. Tedious complaints about my extravagance. I am too much hampered here. What I need is a change of scene”. Later, Lodge progresses the story by depicting Eve as a harbinger of trouble as she eats the forbidden fruit and introduces death into the world. Not only does Eve disregard Adams warnings she tries to blame the catastrophe on him using very flawed reasoning. This again depicts a negative stereotype of women, they never take the blame or admit to their mistakes. Eve says that because Adam jested around the time of the catastrophe and ate a “chestnut”, or as the serpent put it an “aged or moldy joke”. However, in the end Adam reminisces about the past and feels as if Eves boisterous voice is better than silence. This is due to him recognizing the positive stereotypes of women, such as the “goodness of their hearts and sweetness of their spirit.”
By repeating certain actions or phrases Twain places emphasis on them. This conveys a message about society. This shows us that as we learn the truth of our surroundings we either adapt to understand it or are confused by it. In the case of “The Story of The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” and “The Story of The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” Jim understands and takes advantage of this truth whereas Jacob cannot and suffers by imitating the wishful Sunday stories. In “A True Story, Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It” “Mister C” cannot fathom the possibility of Aunt Rachel suffering as she was in a lower status and he hadn’t seen her sad. This disregard or carelessness lead him to be astonished when he heard about her strife. Within the “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” Twain exemplifies the negative stereotypical characteristics of women onto Eve’s character and repeatedly showcases instances of each negative stereotype. Adam, the representative of males, however understands Eve’s good side and prefers her company compared to running away from her in the beginning.
In David Lodge’s chapter on irony, he describes it as “a literary device that says the opposite of what you mean, or inviting an interpretation different from the surface meaning of your words.” (Lodge 179). When a “reader is made aware of a disparity between the facts of a situation and the characters’ understanding of it is called dramatic irony” (Lodge 179). There is no difference in language whether a statement is ironic or not, but it is recognized as ironic in its interpretation. Lodge outlines different ways irony can be created; one way is when a character says the opposite of what the character actually does. There is also verbal irony, otherwise known as sarcasm when a character says something but does not literally mean it. The reader is privileged with knowledge not known by the characters, which makes irony effective. This notion makes the reader aware of a situation in a story, while the characters in the story are oblivious to the ironic elements of their problems. This is evident in many of Mark Twain’s short stories as they are filled with ironic notions that contradict the norm.
Mark Twain’s use of irony is seen in his short story, “A True Story, Word For Word As I Heard It.” Twain introduces a narrator who comes from an upper class, white origin, and shows the ironic nature of the story by asking his African American servant “Aunt Rachel” why she never had any troubles in her life. By asking “Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?” the narrator sounds ironic, how a privileged man asks an African American women why she never had any troubles in her life. The ironic notion that the privileged man has had more troubles and problems in his life than an African American woman portrays the ignorance of the upper class towards the troubles of others. The oppressor is so ignorant that he believes a woman who has been a slave her whole life has never experienced any trouble. This notion of dramatic irony is used to define the white mans’ ignorance during that time period.
In “The story of the good little boy who did not prosper”, there are many ironic points. It is known that when people do good things, good things happen to them. However it is ironic how no matter what good thing Jacob does, he always finds himself getting the short end of the stick, “Jacob ran to help him up and receive his blessing, the blind man did not give him any blessing at all, but whacked him over the head with his stick”. Jacob always wanted to be in one of the church books that teach kids to be good but did not want to die or disappear at the end as the heroes from the church books always do. The irony in this is that he never got to be in a church book, but he ended up dying, “as for young Jacob Blivens, he never got a chance to make his last dying speech after all his trouble fixing it up, unless he made it to the birds“. There is also irony in this story since the bad children always got away with their antics, as opposed to Jacob; who always found himself in trouble or getting hurt. The biggest point of irony is in the fact that the narrator is aware of the boys’ stupidity. He says, “He always obeys his parents no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were”, this shows that the narrator is aware of that there is something wrong with this child. It also brings up this idea that although ideally, this is how all people should act according to church stories, in reality, any person that is that good has to have something wrong with them.
“The story of the bad little boy” is also filled with irony that targets a specific group of people, while also being an ironic story in it of itself. In church tales the bad boy is often reprimanded and punished for doing bad things, however, this boy never got in trouble and never got hurt, “Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog“. The mother in the story did the exact opposite of what a regular mother would do as she did not care what happened to him and spanked him to sleep.In the end, it is ironic how the boy grew up to become successful through cheating and killing his family when these types of actions are what do the exact opposite. The narrator focuses more on the actions of Jim as a child and less on the bad he has done as an adult, and the prioritization of the wrong bad deeds represent how our society is today.
The Diaries of Adam and Eve are filled with underlying irony, as they are both originally religious stories, yet they take place in Buffalo, New York. The fact that religious themes and God are not mentioned once in the diaries is ironic as they are two religious figures. There is also irony as Twain generalizes man as simplistic and merely observant through the lens of Adam. This is contrasted in the entries of Eve, which are analytical and descriptive. The irony in Eve’s descriptions is the fact that she speaks as though she has had many life experiences, but was only born a day before these entries. The purpose of the real stories is to show the sin of man yet that is not mentioned or prioritized in the diaries. The irony in this is that the actual point of the story (according to religion) is inconsequential and not even mentioned in the story. Adam and Eve are portrayed as confused yet well-meaning people who would rather be together on Earth, than in the Garden of Eden apart.
In ending by David Lodge, he begins the passage stating that “conclusions are the weak point of most authors”. Lodge describes the struggles that an author has to go through in finding an ending that concludes the story in a meaningful and powerful way. Endings define stories, everything that happens during the story affects and contributes to the ending. Many authors rethink and rewrite endings to make sure that the story is conveying a message. In Twain’s first two stories, the narrator discusses the lives of two different boys who live by different principles and lifestyles and how that affected their future. In the story “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” the narrator describes how the evil and corrupt little boy ends up being a successful man in his society. The narrator proves no matter what Jim does, he will always get away with it, in fact he even got away with slaughtering his own family. The ending of the story is when the entire meaning is evident to the reader. The ending is when the reader is able to come to the realization on the corrupt society. In “The Good Little Boy” the narrator uses horation satire to attack the same corrupt community. The narrator shows the corrupt society by portraying how the “perfect” boy never succeeded in an evil society. The ending of these two stories make it obvious how Twain chose these different narrators to send a message to the reader. These stories send the message of a corrupt society and how justice will not be served for the honest but rather to the sneaky and mischievous.
Lodge also states how he is a firm believer that in a successful ending, there needs to be a dramatic or shocking shift. In all of Twain’s stories he has a huge shift, but Twain is different than many other authors in the sense that he would not focus on these shifts. In every single Twain story, the protagonist suffers at a point the story, which symbolizes how nice people aren’t always the most successful people. Lodge states “the last sentence of any story acquires a certain resonance merely by virtue of being the last, but this one is particular rich in irony.” Here Lodge suggests the reader to focus on not only the last paragraphs of the story but the last sentence of the story. In “Eves Diary” Eve is beginning to discover the real world and its creations. The ending in this story signifies how eve coped with her fear and found a companion.
Throughout the story Eve feared many things since she was not known to them. After discovering many evils she became almost immune to them. The narrator chose to tell this story to portray how life is full of disappointments no matter how beautiful it may seem. But having a disappointment in your life can be a good thing as it is important for a human being to learn from mistakes. The ending of this story is what explains the theme and purpose of this story. In the last sentence Adam says “wheresoever she was, there was Eden”. This last sentence shows the affect Eve had on Adams life, even though she was seen as a distraction in the beginning of the story.
“I mean, mentally you brace yourself for the ending of a novel. As you’re reading, you’re aware of the fact that there’s only a page or two left in the book, and you get ready to close it. but with a film there’s no way of telling” In “A true story, repeated word for word as I heard it” Twain ends the story in a more cheering way. Although, the entire story was seen as a historical account of an African American slave, the message the ending sends to the people is to always be optimistic. This slave who suffered, and was abused everyday still had faith and still remained optimistic. This story is a perfect account on what Lodge was describing. This story changed from an all depressing story to a rough story with a positive ending. The reader is aware that the story is ending very soon but still never expects a shift in mood and a solution to all the slaves’ miseries. The endings in these stories are all very significant because these stories all have a theme that a human can relate to. The reader comes to the understanding of the theme and life lesson when reading the ending of Mark Twain’s short stories.
Throughout the reader’s journey of exploring a selection of Mark Twain’s short stories, it is easy to recognize a slight pattern in his endings. Twain creates endings that are usually abrupt, and therefore leaves readers surprised with his unexpected endings. Although these endings are often unexpected, they are not uncommon. The commonness of unexpected endings can be seen in Lodge’s chapter on endings.
According to David Lodge, the ending is “the resolution or deliberate non-resolution of the narrative” (Lodge 224). In essence, endings wrap up the story and provide the reader with brief detail on what has happened at the end of the story, in comparison to the main idea presented in the beginning/middle part of the story (Lodge 224). Lodge also goes on to suggest that “the last page or two of the text, often act as a kind of epilogue or postscript, a gentle decoration of the discourse as it draws to a halt” (Lodge 224). Another point that Lodge makes which is reflected in Mark Twain’s short stories, is that short stories are essentially “end-orientated”(Lodge 225). This means that as one begins reading a short story they are under the expectation of reaching its conclusion in a fast manner. According to Lodge, this expectation is what enables readers to enjoy the reading, as the are “drawn along by the magnetic power of its anticipated conclusion” (Lodge 225).
Through understanding Lodge’s points on the power of endings in short stories, readers are able to gain an appreciation for the strategies Mark Twain uses to end his short stories. This relationship between Lodge’s ideas and Twain’s short stories can be seen in the last pages of the story “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief.” In this short story, readers are taken along the main character, Jim’s life journey. Jim, who grew up as a bad little boy, defying the standards in Sunday school books ends up living an extravagant life. Most readers would expect the bad little boy to suffer the consequences of karma for his immoral actions. However, he ends up living a life of ultimate success, as the narrator states: “And he grew up, and married, and raised a large family” (Twain 13). In defying the expectations placed by readers, Twain attempts to reflect on our corrupt society which praises those who are mischievous and cause harm to other. This proves Lodge’s point that the ending of a story is the “gentle decoration of the discourse as it draws to a halt” (Lodge 224), . Lodge’s point is also evident in another short story “Extracts from Eve’s Diary”, in which the end headings are titled “Forty Years Later”, as well as “At Eve’s Grave” (Twain, 212). While his titles and ending are abrupt, Twain chooses to do so, in order to create the satirical effect which mocks Christianity’s beliefs of Adam and Eve.
Lodge also goes on to comment on the Victorian period which are particularly happy ending, “Victorian novelist’s endings were apt to be particularly troublesome, because they were always under pressure from readers and publishers to provide a happy one” (Lodge, 224). Twain almost completely avoids Victorian ends as he creates unexpected and realistic endings in order to show the flaws that he believes are present in the Christian religion. In Twain’s first two short stories of the “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” and “The Story of the Good little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”, he presents the reader with the exact opposite of what Christianity suggests will happen to good boys versus what will happen to bad boys. Twain, does so in order to show that not all good people succeed and not all bad people fail. According to Twain, this is a true representation of reality rather than what biblical stories present. In “A True Story Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It”, Aunt Rachel is reunited with her son (Henry) after years of not seeing him, she states “If you an’t my Henry, what is you doin’ wid dis well on yo’ wris’ and da tsk-yar on yo’ forehead” (Twain, 50). This ending differs from the other endings, because while she is happily reunited with her son, the happiness is ironic. This irony comes from the fact that she is only able to recognize her son by his scars. This goes on to expose the sad realities that humans are unjustly presented with in life.
Twain not only uses his endings to expose the sad realities of life, but to also mock the Christian belief of Adam and Eve in “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”. Twain reflects a real human being characteristic which is relying on human experiences along with trial and error, in order to understand yourself. While Twain’s purpose is to ridicule Christianity, he also focuses on ending the story this way in order to show the indecisive of human beings, a trait part of human nature. Adam who once hated and resented Eve, soon begins to love and appreciate her. This is evident in his statement “at first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of, life” (Twain, 129). He creates this ending in which Adam is happier on Earth with Eve than in Eden without her, which according to Twain shows a flaw in mankind along with the Christian religion, that Adam himself would rather follow his self-interested desires rather than the order given through religion.
Although readers are often under the misconception that all short stories have a happy ending, Mark Twain’s stories falsify this misconception. Through providing readers with unexpected endings, Twain is able to showcase the corruption evident in society. In essence, he tries to represent that although happiness is something attainable, it should not be the ultimate goal of people in life. Instead, individuals should spend their time focusing on how to fix the societal corruption that they are often contributors to. Readers are able to come to this conclusion through applying David Lodge’s points on endings to the short stories of Mark Twain.