David Lodge’s Introducing a Character to Mark Twain Blog Post
Surely one of the most important aspects needed to determine when reading a novel is identifying who the characters are. Introducing a character is not as simple as it sounds; there are many complex ways and methods. David Lodge emphasizes the complexity of introducing a character in one of his chapters from “The Art of Fiction”. The points made by David Lodge are very evident when reading “The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain”.
David Lodge explains that each character’s method of being introduced is different depending on their role; for example, there are flat, minor, or major characters (Lodge 67). Lodge mentions that the most common way to introduce a character in older fiction is by providing a physical description and giving a biographical summary (68). However, within the modern fiction that is often read today, the author usually chooses to develop the character throughout the story (69). In modern fiction, the author usually introduces the characters by conveying the actions of the characters to the readers allowing them to observe the characters’ sense of personality.
The first story presented in “The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain” is titled the “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief”. The title in itself provides a minor introduction to the main character of the story. It is important for the reader to keep in mind that the entire story is told in a third person perspective implying that everything said about the main character, Jim, is how he is portrayed to all surrounding people. The narrator begins the story by comparing Jim to other bad children and the characteristics that those “bad” children possess. He states that most bad children that are read about are named “James” and that they usually all have “sick mothers” who are unable to provide guidance for their children. Twain provides no physical description for Jim, the purpose of this can be inferred that Twain tries to make a connection to not only one specific case of bad little boy but perhaps he tries to coincide the story of Jim to the lives of thousands of young children for this is a repetitive story that humanity witnesses throughout all of history. The only way the audience can actually understand who Jim is by understanding the actions that Twain tells us that he has committed. For example, Jim steals apples from a farmer and knocks out the guard dog; if this incident were to be mentioned in a Sunday school book, Jim would surely be spanked. However, since this story is spoken about as if it is a reality, Jim was able to move on with his life freely with no consequences for everyone must commit mistakes in order to grow in life.
The next story presented is that of a boy named Jacob Blivens in “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”. In this story, Twain introduces the good boy by stating all the actions he chooses to never commit. These actions include being late for school, robbing birds’ nests, lying, playing marbles on Sunday…all things that he would never do. Similar to the story of Jim who was the bad little boy, Twain provides zero context of how his physical description is portrayed to the world. Twain does this to create an emphasis on humanity. Jacob is just a minor example of false teachings in life. Humans are often told in order to live a prosperous life; one must commit prosperous actions and lead an innocent life. Well, in this case, Jacob tries to lead a “good” life yet he always seems to find himself in a ditch of distress. The dilemmas that Jacob faces eventually lead to his death where he stops children from irritating dogs next to a factory where he ends up getting blamed for the incident and soon gets blown to bits. This story portrays an image of modern society’s teachings to the youth, and provides satire to create a depiction of human greed. Twain uses Jacob Bilvins as a representation of children who expect something in return when doing the “right” thing, which in itself would nullify the intentions of doing good things.
In conclusion, Mark Twain uses parody and satire in these two stories to bring enlightenment to a much more complex concept in humanity. In the story of the bad little boy, Twain presents the idea that humans should live their lives individually and not following the teachings that humans since youth. Most people are taught that doing bad things lead to bad consequences whereas Jim was able to contradict that statement for he chose to be his own individual and take the risks of being what can be considered as an “outsider”. However, in contrast to the story of the good little boy, Jacob tries his best to follow the teachings of Sunday school for he thinks it shall repay him later on in life. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Jacob only chooses to do good things because he believes that he will be repaid with a “good” life which contradicts the idea of “good” in the first place. Within these stories, Twain focuses on the corrupt and hypocritical society that we humans inhabit and that what we are taught throughout life is not necessarily always true, for every human will encounter success and failure within his life and those are two aspects of society humans just cannot escape.