.. rther. Twain was obviously concerned with his legacy considering the sheer amount of work he produced. The fact that he held back many works until after his death testifies to his dedication to his family because his later radical ideas could tarnish his name’s sterling reputation. He opened up a dialog on miscegenation with pioneering works such as Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Adventures of Huckelberry Finn but he does it subtly.
In Nationalism and the Color Line in Cable, Mark Twain, and Faulkner, Barbara Ladd calls Pudd’nhead Wilson a complex example of the use of black and white, foreign and domestic, northern and southern social bodies to examine the myths of racial purity, national unity, and individual autonomy (Ladd 130). She continues by stating that he is more conduit than originator because as author of Wilson, Twain refered to the Italian twins as master (Ladd 133, 131). A racist man wouldn’t have referred to his foreign characters as master. Ellison once said, When the white man steps from behind the mask of the Trickster, he is not simply mining a personification of his disorder and chaos but that he will in fact that which he intends only to symbolize (84 Fulton). Maybe Twain only wished to step behind the mask for a short while and noticed that when he came out from behind the mask he had taken on new qualities.
Twain allegorically represented America and the fallacy of slavery’s end. Cushing Strout notes in Making American Tradition that The Supreme Court of the United States was well on its way to emasculating by racist interpretation the three Civil War amendments that promised new freedoms to the blacks (Strout 156). This makes Tom’s plan in Huck Finn to free the already free Jim, with the subsequent wound, analogous to America’s predicament. Blacks are already supposed to be free and thankful for their ‘freedom’ but in many cases they (and whites also) are worse off than before because of the old system must be modified. The allegation that Twain assaulted corrupt politicians by calling them colored could be another allegory indicating colored politicians’ ineffectiveness within the Reconstructed South. To be a colored politician after reconstruction was to be only temporary figurehead that served no purpose.
That wasn’t Twain’s fault although if he had his way no politician would have power. Another allegory is the allegory in Tom Sawyer. Twain appeared to make Injun Joe out to be a bad guy but Joe doesn’t die the typical good-trumps-bad death. Although he is to be hung, Joe starved to death after being trapped by the Judge in the cave (Gerber 219). This is ironic because the long and white hand of the law ends up killing the Indian while ostensibly only trying to protect and look after the town’s citizens. That series of events was happening in America. The Natives got locked up in reservations and starved by the white man looking to protect his own interests.
Notice that the white children, lead by Tom, find the treasure that was in Injun Joe’s possession. This is akin to the U.S. and the prosperity that it is now enjoying although many natives languish in poverty. Twain did feel like he didn’t belong because as William Faulkner wrote he was, the first truly American writer, and all of us since are his heirs (152 Strout). Twain sarcastically remarked at the 1881 meeting of the New England Society of Philadelphia, that The first slave brought into New England out of Africa by your progenitors was an ancestor of mine (Ladd 96).
Ladd mentions that scholars usually posit[s] a humane and sympathetic Mark Twain gently arguing . . . (from a paternal distance) . .
. for black rights or an exploitative Mark Twain appropriating black voices for his own profit (Ladd 137). Ladd decides that Twain’s true intentions fell somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. All evidence I’ve seen points to a Twain seeking to attack racist bourgeoisie values as much as he can through his most effective medium, humor. Since Twain’s comments on his ancestor’s being black elicits laughter he knows that racism is still alive and ready to be attacked.
Only when the joke loses punch is the issue of racism pushed back down a degree. Twain had Aristocratic blood that he could’ve used as a claim to fame but he chose to live as a commoner and joke about being descended from slaves (Neider 28). Twain did profit from his use of black characters but only as he was writing about the things that he knows and his experiences with slavery. If a woman is raped, then makes a successful career writing and lecturing on rape prevention do we accuse her of denigrating the crime? Race, Rape, and Lynching by Sandra Gunning offers the only no holds barred attack on Mark Twain in the UNLV library. She writes even Mark Twain abided by certain tenets of white supremacy without backing it with facts or citations (Gunning 12).
Gunning feels that Twain possesses a need to silence female utterance both black and white (Gunning 13). This statement tends to make Twain out to be sexist more than racist. Gunning might benefit from researching Twain’s Why Not Abolish It in which Twain called for prison terms for the fathers of bastards (Budd Tales 552). The rest of her case consists of Twain reaches for metaphors of malignant blackness similar to those subsequently developed and exploited by Thomas Dixon (Gunning 14). This segues perfectly into this: When Mark Twain was living in Hartford, Conneticut, where Dr. Doane, was rector of an Episcopal Church, he went to hear the Clergyman’s best sermon.
After it was over Mark approached the Doctor and said politely: I have enjoyed your sermon this morning. I welcome it as I would an old friend. I have a book at home in my library that contains every word of it. Why, that can’t be, Mr. Clemens, replied the rector. All the same, it is so, insisted Mark.
Well, I certainly should like to see that book, rejoined the rector with dignity. All right, replied Twain, you shall have it, and the next morning Doctor Doane received with Mark Twain’s compliments a copy of Webster’s ‘Unabridged Dictionary! -Cyril Clemens (Clemens 16) Moral of this anecdote; it’s not the actual words, but their arrangement that matters. I suspect Gunning might also believe that the inventor of the pistol is liable for all handgun murders because they created a mechanism for exploitation. Later in the book she does admit that Pudd’nhead Wilson, the book she’s critiquing, is anti-racist abet with problems because Twain used racist terminology (Gunning 52). Gunning does include mention that in 1901 Twain wrote The United States of Lyncherdom, wherein he called lynching this epidemic of bloody inanities (Gunning 52).
The United States of Lyncherdom was Twain’s mouthpiece to vent his frustration with the state of humanity. He scribed that the right hearted and compassionate . . . would attend [a lynching], and let on be pleased with it, if public approval seemed to require it (Budd, Tales 482).
Twain remarked that each man is afraid of his neighbors disapproval [which is] more dreaded than wounds and death (Budd Tales, 482). Our modern concerns of public apathy was alive and well in 1901. History repeating itself is an oxymoron because people have been saying it for so very long. Unfortunately the only suggestion given by Twain on how to fix the sorry state of affairs was to bring back our missionaries from China because nothing but the martyr spirit can brave a lynching mob (Budd, Tales 485). Twain wrote some seemingly racist comments about the Goshoot Indians in Roughing It.
From what could see and all we could learn, they are very considerably inferior to even the despised Digger Indians of California; inferior to all races of savages on our continent (Hill 166). This statement makes Twain out to be racist if it implied that some races are superior or inferior to others. Twain did write that the first murder he witnesses in ‘Indian country’ is perpetrated by white outlaws and he makes fun of the exaggeration of people injured in an Indian attack (Hill 97-102). There is more solace in the realization that the chapter seems intended more to attack James Fenimore Cooper and his romantic image of the Noble Red Man than to attack Natives rights or support white supremacy. Twain always tried to dispel myths and Cooper’s Noble Red Man image obviously chaffed him as evidenced by Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences (Quirk 377).
He worked so hard at dispelling this myth that he likens the coyote, vulture, and Indian by claiming that they go about hating all other creatures (Hill 79). If you read Twain’s commentary on other races you will realize that without a few jokes at their expense the Indians would be left out and might be seen as superior to the other races. That would be racism. Twain also used his satire of the Goshoots to sustain other attacks one on the Baltimore and Washington railroad companies and another on religion. I think that an intelligent critic will notice Twain’s curious call for us to find it in our hearts to give these poor naked creatures our Christian sympathy and compassion (Hill 169). Twain thought little of what he considered oppressive and contradictory religious teaching so he was obviously joking. Although he claimed the Goshoots are extremely uncivilized The United States of Lyncherdom calls on Missionaries in China to return because The Chinese are univerally considered to be excellent people, honest, honorable, industrious, trustworthy, kind-hearted .
. . and besides, almost every convert runs the risk of catching our civilization (Budd Tales 484). He didn’t highly value civilization so calling them uncivilized is a compliment. It was curious to see how quickly the paint and tinsel fell away from him and left him treacherous, filthy and repulsive also seems racist on the surface (Hill 168-9).
Twain seemed to take a shot at Natives although it’s more of an attack on Cooper for painting and tinseling them up whenever Cooper needs either an eloquent speech or a trail followed. Twain felt that Cooper was being unfair in depicting the Indians as he did rather than how they really were. He continued with wherever one finds an Indian tribe he has only found Goshoots more or less modified by circumstances and surroundings (Hill 168-9). Searching deeper one realizes that we are all the same, more or less modified by circumstances and surrounding. I could comically write that I met the most uncivilized group of creatures in a trailer park in Los Angeles.
Would that be racist or is would it only be considered racist if the inhabitants were non-white? I wish I could see Twain’s notes on the Goshoot Indians to shed light on the true meaning of Twain’s opinion of them. The Dervish and the Stranger while satiric, indicates that he knew of the injustice caused to the Natives. The character of the Dervish believes that there is such a thing as a good deed. The Offensive Stranger, arguing with the Dervish, prophesies that from every impulse, whether good or evil, flows two streams; the one carried health, the other poison (Budd, Tales 547). As an example he shows a white Chief telling his people how their heaven blest industry allowed them to dam the river which helps them become prosperous and happy (Budd Tales 548).
The next paragraph contains an Indian Chief lamenting that The white American has dammed our river . . . and turned our field into a desert, wherefore we starve (Budd Tales 548). Those thoughts seem more progressive than America’s modern high school textbooks. The Offensive Stranger further proves his case with Columbus.
Columbus gave to the plodding poor and the landless of Europe farms and breathing-space and plenty of happiness (Budd Tales 548). But the Europeans hunted and harried the original owners of the soul, and robbed them, beggared them, drove them from their homes, and exterminated them (Budd Tales 548). This tit for tat doesn’t condemn nor support the persecution of the Natives but it at least acknowledges it. This was a very liberal step at the time. I noticed that the rest of the examples in The Dervish and the Stranger, the Philippines, Boer War, and U.S. missionaries in China are all explicitly condemned by Twain later in other speeches.
Twain might have been too timid (or realistic) to try to wage too many full out wars at once in the arena of public opinion. Conclusion I believe that one must look at a wide selection of writing to even scratch the surface of Mark Twain’s thoughts. I hope that I’ve succeeded in enlightening even the more knowledgeable reader about Twain’s racial feelings. There are those who suggest that the use of the word nigger is enough to make a writer racist. That would condemn writers such as Ralph Ellison to the dubious distinction of racist for his casual use of the word commonly used to refer to blacks during his time.
Depicting the actual state of affairs, then making fun of them, was Twain’s hallmark. If that is racism then everyone who ever laughed at an ironic or racially allegorical situation is racist. Never did Mark Twain attempt to state that the white race or any other races are either superior or inferior to others. He wrote that all humans are equally bad (or good) and that the only differences are titles and clothing. Bitterness, thus his capacity to attack the status quo, grew as his friends and family died but that is to be expected.
He rooted for the underdog and championed the cause of Jews, blacks, and Chinese. His treatment of the Indians is less clear cut but it is obvious that he knows America treats the Indians like they treated the Phillipinos (the same as the British treated the Boers.) Twain developed from a writer who attempted to instill compassion in American’s less privileged classes. Near the end of his life he seemed to have given up on mankind after recognizing cyclical trends in history. During the last ten to fifteen years a melancholy Twain condemned, yet called for compassion, all of mankind, which he saw stuck in a terrible and unsolvable predicament. He realized that the white slave master was stuck in the system that the black slave was and that the Civil War created more problems then it solved.
At the very end he wished for release. He called death the gift that makes all other gifts mean and poor (Neider 375). He resigned himself to the vision of a heaven full of unrecognized heroes and colored angels (McCullough 129-188). This is not the vision of a racist, but one of an eminent, open-minded, and remarkable human. Book Reports.