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Names – Mark Twain’s Short Stories

Names are one of many literary features that captivates its significance with in it. According to Lodges book The Art of Fiction names are given with a “semantic intent” meaning that when our parents give us these names, they associate it with what they hope us to act like. However, it is in our power whether to live up to it or not. When novelists give a character a name, they choose it very carefully, as this name will represent the character’s traits, boundaries, and strengths. That’s because the name of the character may have the exact meaning, or the complete opposite to it. Usually in novels Biblical association comes along into play, “inevitably”. And that’s why names are never neutral in a novel. They must signify something. Typically, no author ever explains the implication and suggestion of the names; instead they like to leave it for the reader to figure out and have a process of their own. Lodge states that names are a mask to symbolize something.

 

In Mark Twain’s Short Stories, he showcases four stories each with its hidden meaning. He uses satire to shed lights on issues about Christian beliefs or simply to show they contradict reality. For example, in “The story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” and “The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” Twain mentions the names Jim, James, and George. It is known in the Sunday school stories that the name James symbolizes the bad boy. Jim was a bad boy who stole, lied, murdered, and still succeeded in life without getting punished for it. As a matter of fact, Jim is a short name for James. Instantly, one recognizes the Biblical association with the names that usually came up in the story. The writer went far enough that the names in the story go against the religious beliefs in Christianity. Although Jim’s name has a negative connotation to it, the author sure did the opposite of the reader’s expectations. Where he made, him succeed in life when he was bad “he grew up, and married, and raised a large family, and brained them al with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manners of cheating and rascality” (page 13, lines11-13). As for George, the good little boy of the village had got in trouble because of Jim. Twain mocks society and Christian beliefs at once in this story, where he displays the story to be contradicting with the beliefs, yet true because it represents society sometimes. However, in the story of the good boy, the writer demonstrates how the good boy Jacob who failed in life “Thus perished the good boy who did the best he could, but didn’t come out according to the books.” (page 33, lines 1-2) Twain is criticizing the corruption in society, because society views those who try to live morally good lives as silly or somehow stupid, as Jacob’s classmates viewed him.

 

On the other hand, there were two other Biblical stories, “Extracts from Adam’s Diary Translated from the Original MS” and “Eve’s Diary Translated from the Original”. First The name Eve according to Hebrew means “to breath” or to “live”, which logical since Eve was made from Adam’s ribs, so they both started the race of human kinds. Both genders belong together (men cannot live without women, as much as he doesn’t like her). Adam describes Eve as “a weird creature”, he asks why is it “always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals”. (page 120, lines 2-3) when Twain suggested their names he certainly did create an expectation to the audience, which he did not meet, but rather twisted. In Eve’s diary, the name Adam means “to be red” or “to make”, which fits the setting of the story as Eve is made from his ribs. Eve says she will love him even if he hits her “If he should beat me and abuse me, I should go on loving him. I know it.” (page 212, lines 3-4) This quote is significant because it conveys how some religious people physically harm their wives, even if the bible or the religion didn’t urge them to do so. His satire is very horatient, yet he shows the relationship between them is very endearing. Mark Twain is undermining Christians and their beliefs. He examines their religious beliefs and mocks a lot of people. Although twain contradicts reality, in both the diaries he gives us a little bit of insight of truth of dysfunctional relationships. Which is why names play a crucial role in any literary work.

–    Fatmah A.


2 Comments

  1. mehrunh says:

    Your blogpost is well written, good job! I liked how you found the origin and true meaning of the names Twain gives his characters. Though, I would have liked it if you expanded on George’s name because you mentioned it in your work. My blogpost is about surprise. I think that if readers did not expect “Adam’s Diary” to be about Adam and Eve, then it would become a surprise when Adam says that he discovered that the creature’s name was Eve. Readers will then find the correlation between the two. Eve is the one in both “Adam’s Diary” and “Eve’s Diary” to make names for things and people. Without this ability, readers may not be able to find out who the “creature” was. Why do you think Twain gave his character Eve the ability to name living things, objects, and abstract concepts?

  2. sameehakhalil says:

    Reading this blogpost was truly a pleasure! It allowed me to look at the stories from a perspective that I had not considered before. For instance, you mentioned that the significance of the name “Jim” in “The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” is that it refers to the Christianity in the sense that it “goes against religious beliefs”. I would love to know more about why this is true and the particular beliefs that it contradicts other than those evident in society. Otherwise, excellent work Fatmah!

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