Mark Twain, Roughing It (1891)
- Mark Twain (1835-1910), whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is best known today as a humorist and as the author of numerous novels, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), as well as short stories, sketches, and various works of journalism. Raised in Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River, Twain's experience was that of a man on the cusp of several worlds, including the edge of the slavery South, and the starting point of the West. In many ways, Twain's project was to break the domination of American letters by New England writers, as illustrated in his humorous essay, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895). His accounts of Western adventures, as represented by Roughing It (1891) and "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1865/1875), were extremely popular.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) What are the characteristics which identify the Western story as a genre? To answer this, refer to the selected reading from Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation. What are the types of characters which appear in the Western story? What do they represent?
- 2) Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" represents a regional writer's response to the "New England-ness" of Cooper's stories; although Cooper is a regional writer, he is not marginalized as "merely" regional because he writes about the Northeastern U.S. In what ways does Twain call for a less regionally-limited American literature and identity?
- 3) What is the story beneath the story of "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" which Twain wishes to tell? What does he want the reader to understand about Western communities as a result of having read this story?
- 5) "Roughing It" tells the story of Twain's adventures out West, and the section we are reading focuses on a trip by stagecoach. In what ways is this story like and dislike Ford's film Stagecoach, which addresses a similar story? Are the types of characters present in Twain's story similar to those in the film?
- 6) What are the social tensions which appear in Twain's writings? How does he use humor to free him to make social commentary?
- 7) Richard Slotkin argues that central to the myth of the frontier is the maintenance of borders. What kind of borders are drawn and maintained in Twain's stories? How are they represented? Who crosses them and why?
Further resources and readings:
- ACCESS INDIANA Teaching & Learning Center's Mark Twain Site
- The Western Literature Association's A Literary History of the American West
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for Honors 502 (American Frontiers and Borderlands), Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: Saturday, 19 August 2000.