Prose fiction writers often use their pieces of literature as a platform to shed light on various political and social issues, and Mark Twain is no exception. However, due to the author’s audience a majority of the time the issues that the author would like to discuss cannot be explicitly stated. Instead, the author uses various literary devices, settings, and characters to implicate the phenomena that they are trying to voice their opinions on. As David Lodge mentions in his The Art of Fiction, implication plays a key role in developing a bond between the author and those reading the literary piece. Lodge states in his chapter on implication that presenting a “truly exhaustive description of any event is impossible” and that is why it is up to the reader to fill the gaps present in every piece of literature (Lodge 190). He then goes on to describe the nature of these gaps. Lodge states that these gaps are either intentionally created by the author as a form of strategic art, or are unintentionally the result of the author’s unconscious mind (Lodge 190). Through the interpretation of Lodge’s ideas on implication the reader can gain a better understanding on Mark Twain’s attitude towards the religious and social corruption in society.
It is important to note that Mark Twain himself was highly against the hypocrisy and ignorance he saw among the Christians in his society. This is evident in his infamous quote: “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian” (“Directory of Mark Twain’s maxims, quotations, and various opinions”). Therefore, Twain uses the three short 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 “Extracts From Adam’s Diary” to showcase the ignorance and hypocrisy that he believed were apparent amongst Christians in society. In these short stories Twain uses characters to showcase his discontent with the notions of religion. In “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” the main character, Jim, spends his life committing various mischievous acts. However, unlike the bad little boys in the Sunday school books, Jim never suffers the consequences of his actions. Instead, whenever he commits an act of evil those innocent are convicted of the deed. This can be seen when Jim steals his teacher’s pen knife, but George Wilson, the good little boy gets thrashed for the action (Twain 11-13). Although Twain never explicitly mentions his discontent with religion and Sunday school books in this short story, the narrator of the story states: “So you see there never was a bad James in the Sunday-school books that had such a streak of luck as this sinful Jim with the charmed life” (Twain 13). When reading this line, readers can infer that Twain is trying to shed light not only on the unrealistic standards of Sunday school books, but on the corruption of society as a whole. This is because Jim never followed the Sunday school books, but ended up living a lavish life, and was “universally respected” (Twain 13). The respect that he was given for committing such mischievous acts demonstrates the ways in which members of society are corrupt, as those who do bad are often praised more than those who do good.
Twain’s discontent with religion can also be seen in the short story: “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper.” Complementary to the “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” in this story the main character Jacob abides by all the rules placed in Sunday school books. He spends his time trying to follow the stories of the good little boys in Sunday school books, as he yearned to be one of them. However, unlike the noble boys in Sunday school books, Jacob is never rewarded for his actions. Instead, his life is riddled with a chain of unlucky accounts. His noble actions end up leading to his death, as he tries to save fifteen dogs from the mischievous acts of other boys. However, instead of receiving praise for this noble act, Jacob is mistaken for the boys that tied up the dogs, and is therefore hit by Alderman McWelter. He lands in the ocean, and his body parts become scattered across the body of water (Twain 29-33). Through seeing the bad luck that Jacob endured, readers are able to infer that the same Christians who teach their children to behave according to religious ideals blindly accept and participate in the morally degenerate society of which they are members.
Although Lodge’s ideas on implication can be used to understand Twain’s discontent with Sunday school books, these ideas can also be used to understand Twain’s displeasure with Adam. Adam is believed to be the first human God created. While many that practice religion are awed by the story of Adam and his wife Eve, Twain seems to mock this religious figure. This mockery can be seen in the short story “Extracts From Adam’s Diary.” In this short story, Twain creates a diary for Adam, illustrating both his thoughts and emotions prior to and after being kicked out of heaven. Through reading these extracts, readers can imply that Twain is satirizing the religious idea of original sin and the related Calvinist doctrine, which states that each individual has a destiny that is predetermined by God. However, by humanizing Adam, Twain showcases the unfairness of the human predicament. In essence, humans are given punishments for their actions, despite their knowledge on whether or not what they committing is wrongful. This is apparent in Twain’s version of Adam because he never intentionally decides to defy God’s commands.
While Twain’s anti religious ideals are never explicitly mentioned, they are implied. However, his discontent with religious notions are not the only thing evident in his short stories. Twain also utilizes his characters to discuss the importance of an individual’s upbringing. In the stories: “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” Twain briefly mentions the upbringing of the characters. In “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” the narrator discusses the ways in which Jim’s mom treats him: “She (his mother) said if he were to break his neck, it wouldn’t be much loss. She always spanked Jim to sleep, and she never kissed him goodnight” (Twain 11). Although the narrator does not consecutively follow up on the ways Jim’s mom treats him, mentioning the relationship he has with his mother helps readers infer that Jim is the naughty individual he is because he grew up in a household that lacked love and nourishment. Twain seems to showcase the idea that the way parents treat their children either positively or negatively influences their behavior. This is also apparent in the narrator’s random mentioning of George Wilson’s mom. Wilson was known as the moral boy, and as the narrator states: “..and always obeyed his mother” (Twain 12). Through mentioning the obedience that Wilson displayed towards his mother readers can come to the analysis that he is moral due to the positive relationship that he has with his mother.
However, Twain not only uses his literary pieces to discuss the issues of poor parenting and religion, but also the prominent issue of racism. This is apparent in the short story: “A True Story, Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It.” It is important to note that Twain published this short story in the year 1874, nine years after the Civil War ended. During that time period, it was expected that black individuals would prosper in society because they were no longer enslaved. However, their life was never void of the stagnant obstacles of racism, financial setbacks, and inequality. To showcase the ignorance white individuals had on the matter of equality post Civil War, Twain uses the narrator to depict this misconception that blacks lived lavishing lives after the Civil War. This is because the narrator states that Aunt Rachel is always happy and has lived a life with no trouble. Therefore, the narrator states: “Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?”(Twain 46). In stating this, the narrator is conveying his ignorance towards the mistreatment of African Americans post Civil War, as he believes that their lives have been void of stagnant obstacles.
Overall, Lodge’s ideas help readers gain a better understanding of Mark Twain as a writer, and gain an appreciation for his attempts to shed light on various global issues. Through understanding Twain’s discontent with religion, readers come to the realization that authors often use their pieces of literature as a platform to discuss political and social issues. Although, these issues are usually never explicitly stated, it is up to readers to figure out the issues that the author is trying to discuss. Therefore, Lodge’s ideas on implication are essential in allowing readers to understand the underlying meaning of Twain’s short stories.
“Directory of Mark Twain’s Maxims, Quotations, and Various Opinions.” Mark Twain
Quotations -Christianity. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.
Lodge, David. The art of fiction. Vintage, 2011.
Twain, Mark. The best short stories of Mark Twain. Edited by Lawrence I. Berkove,
Modern Library, 2004.