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Lodge’s Ideas Applied to Mark Twain’s Short Stories: Title -Ameena A.

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.


5 Comments

  1. sbnalsaadi says:

    I agree with some of your points and was interested on your outlook on the significance of titles. I did have a question to pose to you:To what extent did irony play a role in the titles that Twain chose to give? I understand how the first two titles about the good and bad little boys seem literal, but the final two stories about Adam and Eve completely drift off from the original religious stories. Do you believe that the subtitle “Translated from the original manuscript” is ironic in Extracts from Adam’s Diary, seeing as how it tells the story of the daily interactions between two individuals. Do you believe that the message that Twain attempts to deliver is what dictates the title? For example the stories “The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” and “The Bad Little Boy Who Did Not Come to Grief” Twain focuses a lot on how absurd religious manuscripts and ideals can be and that in reality people are materialistic, but there is not indication of that major theme in the title.

  2. safahawash says:

    I find your take on this literary element extremely unique and insightful. Not only am I able to make connections between my literary element (Marxist Literary Theory) and yours, but I am also able to appreciate writer’s title choice. This analysis sheds light upon the fact that writers do not just choose a title that summarizes the story best, but a title that can possibly instigate inquiry or even make the reader laugh. This leads me to the question I would like to pose for you: don’t you think that another reason as to why Twain’s titles were “erratic and fanciful” is in correspondence with his satirical criticism of class struggle and social/governmental corruption? I also found it ironic how in “A True Story Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It,” the narrator could be motioning towards Aunt Rachel’s dense southern accent. This contributes to the idea of the oppressor’s evident ignorance. Finally, I would like to praise your take on the purpose of using Adam and Eve as figures of a normal day-to-day diary. Twain definitely did subvert the readers’ expectations as he told the story of Adam and Eve, both religiously associated figures, as normal individuals with no preceding ideals, living in a material brawl for survival.

  3. sarahpanera123 says:

    I never believed that a title, a simple phrase at the beginning of a story is so thought out by authors like Twain. One interesting point that intrigued me was how 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”, it appeared as if the narrators are the ones who decided on the titles because the titles reflect what the narrators think is important. I learned how blunt and straightforward Twain is with his titles because his titles nearly tell the entire story on its own. However, due to this, does this “frustrate the expectations of the readers” as you mentioned? If so, how? Because the titles nearly give away the plot and the readers kind of have a hint as to what the story is going to be about. To what extent do you think these titles are misleading?

  4. I agree with your points about how Twain’s title promises a certain kind of setting and atmosphere and how they are off beat and riddling. Personally, when I read the titles of these stories, I too am very curious to know what the story is about. When I finished reading his stories, my expectations were completely off. Twain does a great job at defying the expectations of readers just as you mentioned. My blogpost was about ending and this relates and corresponds with your topic of the title because they go hand in hand. The title is the first thing you read while the ending is the last thing you encounter. Your expectations could either be defied or proven right. Great job!

  5. mehrunh says:

    Your analysis of titles in Twain’s work is interesting and insightful. I liked how you noticed the relationship between the narrator and the way the titles were styled. Narrators have a significant impact on Twain’s stories. In your analysis of the titles “The Bad Little Boy” and “Good Little Boy”, you say that the expectations of readers are defied because the title explained the basic plot of the stories. This idea reminds me of my blogpost which is an analysis of the element surprise in Twain’s works. I have a question for you: Considering the patterns in the two short stories, would readers be surprised by the endings because of the shift in plot, or do the titles eliminate surprise entirely?

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