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Home » Uncategorized » Narrative Structure in Mark Twain’s Short Stories- Ghadah A.

Narrative Structure in Mark Twain’s Short Stories- Ghadah A.

Using the analogy of a modern high rise building, Lodge explains that narrative structure is like the frame that can’t be seen but holds up the building (Lodge,216). Usually in stories the beginning, middle, and end is never explicitly stated, but the author uses that structure to help the reader understand their message. It keeps the story organized and concise, and helps tie main events together together. Lodge sees narrative structure as having a clear beginning, middle, and end that serve to help the reader follow the timeline of the characters. Mark Twain utilizes narrative structure and familiar stories to guide his readers to the morals that he hopes to impart.

In the pair of stories “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” Twain uses the preexisting knowledge that his readers would have had of Sunday school books to convey his message that the emphasis that society placed on “goodness” and “badness” was misguided. The two stories are interconnected as Jim features in Jacobs story and vice versa. In telling the story of both Jim the bad boy and Jacob the good boy, Twain gives an introduction into their history and then progresses to tell of their actions as children. Finally, he concludes with each boys’ fate, Jim ending with prosperity and Jacob ending in death. Interestingly, Twain plays on the expectations of the reader who usually see bad boys end poorly and good boys being rewarded. He uses the narrative structure to build the anticipation of the reader, which serves to underscore Twain’s message in criticizing the moral corruption and hypocrisy of his society.

“A True Story Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It”, tells the story in the voice of a former African American slave by the name Aunt Rachel. She is narrating her life to an acquaintance who asks her how she has lived for 60 years and never had any trouble, he was oblivious to the struggles that African Americans faced. They were seen as  care-free and unable to experience deep emotions, it was stereotype that slave owner’s used to justify slavery. She begins with her birth into slavery and tells how she ended up losing her son and husband in a slave auction. The middle of her story is one that would be very familiar to Twain’s reader at the time, as she tells of first serving under the confederates but then being acquired by the union. The climax of this story comes when a southern black regiment stops at the house she works in, and she realizes that one of her sons is in the group. The final line serves as a conclusion “Oh, no, Misto C—-, I haven’t had no trouble. An’ no joy!” (Twain, 50). Twain is criticizing white ignorance and he is holding up a symbolic example of the strength of former slaves.

In another pair of stories, Twain again relies on knowledge of the bible to convey his message. The backbone of both stories is the garden of Eden and the fall of man. “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” reads exactly like journal entries telling Adam’s perspective on their time in the garden and thereafter. Adam is very put off by Eve’s arrival and intrusion into his life. As the story progresses he details her actions and his resentment of them. As his entries continue Twain injects some humor into Adams descriptions of Cain, as Adam seems completely unaware that Cain is a baby. While Twain does no explicitly state a climax, the conclusion shares that Adam has finally accepted his life and is happier for it. In contrast “Eve’s Diary” contains journal entries that are much more positive and descriptive. She is interested in the world around her and very curious. Though her timeline follows Adam’s her story gives us more insight into the serpent and into the fall. Whereas Adam seems to only report observations with little thought put into them, Eve analyzes her situation and thinks deeply about meaning. Again, the climax is not overt but Eve concludes that she is very content in her life as Adam’s partner.

Twain used existing narratives in combination with a familiar structure to guide his reader to the morals of his stories. By using known plots with unique twists on expectation, Twain can emphasize that, just because the reader can know where a story starts doesn’t mean the reader can anticipate the end.


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