David Lodge commences his chapter on titles by describing it as a “ part of the text—the first part of it, in fact, that we encounter—and therefore has considerable power to attract and condition the reader’s attention,” (Lodge 193). A title may seem like a very small and insignificant part of a work; however, it has the capability to create anticipation, expectation or even disinterest. That is why Lodge believes that choosing a title is an important part of the creative process (Lodge 194). This label conveys what the piece of work is supposed to be about. Mark Twain, an American writer, is a great example of an author who incorporates many different techniques in his titles to grab the attention of his readers and defy their expectations.
As titles are expected to foreshadow what the piece of work is about, Twain’s titles actually tell the entire story on their own. When readers read the title, “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”, they will assume that the title is really long and is unrelated to the plot of the stories. However, when reading both stories, readers will be astonished when they realize that the title gave away the entire plot of the story. In “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief”, the narrator tells readers about Jim, “the bad little boy” who who gets away with school boy pranks and bad behavior his entire life. Then, just as promised in the title, the narrator tells readers about how Jim “didn’t come to grief”. In other words, Jim got away with doing all these bad things and is even “universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature” (Twain 13) as a reward for his evil deeds. Twain uses the same technique of explicitly stating the plot in the title of “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”. In the beginning of the story, the narrator also tells readers about Jacob, “the good little boy” who tries to live right according to the books. He performs acts of generosity, goodness, and kindness which he feels are aligned with Christian ideals. At the end of his life, Jacob “did not prosper” and like the other good boys in Sunday school books, he dies too, but he is not even remembered by his good actions. In the titles of these two stories, Twain “promises a certain kind of setting and atmosphere” (Lodge 194) where he assures readers of the exact setting and plot of the story. By the end of reading both stories, the expectations of the readers are defied when they realize that if they had read the titles, they would have understood the entire story.
Lodge expresses that “more recent novelists often favour whimsical, riddling, off beat titles”(Lodge 194). Twain uses this technique in his title “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It”. Just by reading the title, readers notice that it sounds whimsical and off beat. The wording of this title appears erratic and fanciful. Not only does Twain just say “a true story” but he elaborates further and says “repeated word for word as I heard it”, when both phrases mean the same thing. His title is riddling and attracts the reader’s attention because it is very vague, and causes the readers to question what the “true story” is about. He intentionally phrased this title as to require ingenuity in discovering the story’s meaning. Hence, it encourages readers to read the story and discover what it is about. When readers read “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It”, they learn that it is a true story heard by the narrator Misto C about Aunt Rachel, a colored servant. In the beginning, the narrator Misto C describes her as a “a cheerful hearty soul” (Twain 46). Therefore, he asks her “Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?” (Twain 46). Aunt Rachel replies with a personal story of how her entire family were sold at a slave auction and how she reunited with her lost son. In the end of the story, readers learn and discover what the “true story, repeated word for word as I heard it” was actually about.
A common theme in Twain’s choice of titles is presented in the stories: “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief”, “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”, and “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It”. With these three stories, it appears as if the narrators are the ones who decided on the titles because the titles reflect what the narrators think is important. Twain creates these titles that are so linked to the narrators that they expose the readers’ assumptions. In “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” the narrators are told from third point of view and are telling the story of Jim and Jacob. Hence, it is as if the narrators decided to title these stories. In the title, “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It”, the narrator Misto C is actually hearing a true story that Aunt Rachel is telling him. Just by reading the title, Misto C appears shocked when he learns about Aunt Rachel’s struggle. This is shown in the end of the story when there is no direct response from him when Aunt Rachel concludes her story. Overall, this demonstrates this creative and hidden technique Twain uses where his titles are directly related to the narrators.
In the stories, “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” and “Eve’s Diary”, Lodge’s choice of titles is based off of “the names of the central characters” (Lodge 194). In this case, the names of these central characters are of important figures in religion: Adam and Eve. Hence, before reading both stories, readers will expect God to figure prominently and that the original sin of Adam and Eve will be a central part of a serious story. However, once again, the expectations of the readers are subverted when both stories depict Adam and Eve as very confused and “normal” individuals who try to get through each day. Both of these titles show Adam and Eve doing something a “regular” person might do: keeping a diary. Overall, this demonstrates how Twain was able to create these two stories based on two important religious figures in the form of personal diaries.
Twain has a reoccurring theme in the way he creates his titles. His titles are most often straightforward and blunt where they tell the story on their own. They are unique in a sense where the title even relates directly to the narrators of the story. Hence, they shock the readers and frustrate their expectations. Next time, before reading a work by Mark Twain, pay attention to his title because it might just tell you the entire story on its own.