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Ending in Lodge’s The Art of Fiction Applied to Twain’s Short Stories

Throughout the reader’s journey of exploring a selection of Mark Twain’s short stories, it is easy to recognize a slight pattern in his endings. Twain creates endings that are usually abrupt, and therefore leaves readers surprised with his unexpected endings. Although these endings are often unexpected, they are not uncommon. The commonness of unexpected endings can be seen in Lodge’s chapter on endings.

According to David Lodge, the ending is “the resolution or deliberate non-resolution of the narrative” (Lodge 224). In essence,  endings wrap up the story and provide the reader with brief detail on what has happened at the end of the story, in comparison to the main idea presented in the beginning/middle part of the story (Lodge 224). Lodge also goes on to suggest that “the last page or two of the text, often act as a kind of epilogue or postscript, a gentle decoration of the discourse as it draws to a halt” (Lodge  224). Another point that Lodge makes which is reflected in Mark Twain’s short stories, is that short stories are essentially “end-orientated”(Lodge 225). This means that as one begins reading a short story they are under  the expectation of reaching its conclusion in a fast manner. According to Lodge, this expectation is what enables readers to enjoy the reading, as the are “drawn along by the magnetic power of its anticipated conclusion” (Lodge 225).

Through understanding Lodge’s points on the power of endings in short stories, readers are able to gain an appreciation for the strategies Mark Twain uses to end his short stories. This relationship between Lodge’s ideas and Twain’s short stories can be seen in the last pages of the story  “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief.” In this short story, readers are taken along the main character, Jim’s life journey. Jim, who grew up as a bad little boy, defying the standards in Sunday school books ends up living an extravagant life. Most readers would expect the bad little boy to suffer the consequences of karma for his immoral actions. However, he ends up living a life of ultimate success, as the narrator states: “And he grew up, and married, and raised a large family” (Twain 13). In defying the expectations placed by readers, Twain attempts to reflect on our corrupt society which  praises those who are mischievous and cause harm to other. This proves Lodge’s point that the ending of a story is the “gentle decoration of the discourse as it draws to a halt” (Lodge 224), . Lodge’s point is also evident in another short story “Extracts from Eve’s Diary”, in which the end headings are titled “Forty Years Later”, as well as “At Eve’s Grave” (Twain, 212). While his titles and ending are abrupt, Twain chooses to do so, in order to create the satirical effect which mocks Christianity’s beliefs of Adam and Eve.

Lodge also goes on to comment on the Victorian period which are particularly happy ending, “Victorian novelist’s endings were apt to be particularly troublesome, because they were always under pressure from readers and publishers to provide a happy one” (Lodge, 224). Twain almost completely avoids Victorian ends as he creates unexpected and realistic endings in order to show the flaws that he believes are present in the Christian religion. In Twain’s first two short stories of the “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”, he presents the reader with the exact opposite of what Christianity suggests will happen to good boys versus what will happen to  bad boys. Twain, does so in order to show that not all good people succeed and not all bad people fail. According to Twain, this is a true representation of reality rather than what biblical stories present. In “A True Story Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It”, Aunt Rachel is reunited with her son (Henry) after years of not seeing him, she states “If you an’t my Henry, what is you doin’ wid dis well on yo’ wris’ and da tsk-yar on yo’ forehead” (Twain, 50). This ending differs from the other endings, because while she is happily reunited with her son, the happiness is ironic. This irony comes from the fact that she is only able to recognize her son by his scars.  This goes on to expose the sad realities that humans are unjustly presented with in life.

Twain not only uses his endings to expose the sad realities of life, but to also mock the Christian belief of Adam and Eve in “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”. Twain reflects a real human being characteristic which is relying on human experiences along with trial and error, in order to understand yourself. While Twain’s purpose is to ridicule Christianity, he also focuses on ending the story this way in order to show the indecisive of human beings, a trait part of human nature. Adam who once hated and resented Eve, soon begins to love and appreciate her. This is evident in his statement “at first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of, life” (Twain, 129). He creates this ending in which Adam is happier on Earth with Eve than in Eden without her, which according to Twain shows a flaw in mankind along with the Christian religion, that Adam himself would rather follow his self-interested desires rather than the order given through religion.

Although readers are often under the misconception that all short stories have a happy ending, Mark Twain’s stories falsify this misconception. Through providing readers with unexpected endings, Twain is able to showcase the corruption evident in society. In essence, he tries to represent that although happiness is something attainable, it should not be the ultimate goal of people in life. Instead, individuals should spend their time focusing on how to fix the societal corruption that they are often contributors to. Readers are able to come to this conclusion through applying David Lodge’s points on endings to the short stories of Mark Twain.


1 Comment

  1. sallykishi says:

    This is great! I really liked how you made connections between the stories’ endings and the real world. I never thought of how the way Twain ends his stories can help him relay a message to readers. I was drawn by your mentioning of the readers’ surprise at Twain’s abrupt endings. I think your entry could be even better if you emphasized this. How did surprising the readers serve Twain? Or how did it affect the readers? Overall, this is a very interesting and engaging post!

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