Mark Twain has composed a myriad of short stories over a long period of time. Twain writes with the passion to charm and amuse the reader. Every single sentence he writes makes one want to keep reading on to see what happens next. His stories also offer a comment on human nature and Twain often questions conventional wisdom. Just because someone’s life did not attach to with what many people see normal, Twain seems to be asking if that makes them lucky when they don’t fail. He responds to that question and challenges the reader to think twice in his short stories.
Mark Twain’s stories seem to never be lacking hilariousness. In Luck, for example, he brings out the subject, Lieutenant-General Lord Arthur Scoresby, as a dignified and decorated soldier but then makes a quick turn by quoting the town Reverend saying, “Privately – he’s an absolute fool” (Twain 265).
This blunt change allows Twain the chance to recount the tale told by the Reverend concerning Scoresby’s many failures in battle. Additionally, he sets up the reader in The Story of the Bad Little Boy by painting a dreary picture as to what could happen to the main character. Twain then excitedly breaks the ice with an amusing reveal of what actually happened. Twain writes, “Is it right to disobey my mother?
Isn’t it sinful to do this? Where do bad little boys go who gobble up their good kind mother’s jam?” and then he didn’t kneel down all alone and promise to never to be wicked any more, no that is the way with all other bad boys in the books… He ate that jam, and said it was bully; and he put in the tar, and said that was bully, also, and laughed, and observed that the old woman would get up and snort” (11). This process of creating a sullen circumstance and then flamboyantly reversing course is depicted in most of Twain’s stories and was used to have a great effect. Mark Twain used humor to thrill the reader, which he did effectively and consistently, but he also used it make a clear point. The most frequent point he was trying to make was that society is too uptight.
In The Story of the Bad Little Boy, he underlines a wide range of “bad” things that the main character does but wraps it up that it had little bearing on him when he became a man. Twain writes, “And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an ax one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalest wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the legislature” (13). This was Twain’s way of getting at the notion that a naughty child will always be a bad person. He does this again in Science vs. Luck in which he pokes fun at the over-the-top laws against gambling and games of chance.
Twain does this through the main character, a nifty attorney, who argues that the game of seven-up is actually a game of science rather than chance so should not be considered gambling. Twain writes, “We, the jury in the case do hereby unanimously decide that the game commonly known as old sledge or seven-up is eminently a game of science and not chance… In demonstration where of it is hereby and herein stated, iterated, reiterated, set forth and made manifest that, during the entire night, the “chance” men never won a game” (73). By using humor to sink in the message, Twain was able to poke fun at the conservative folks that ruled his day, and ours. Conservative thinking includes the presumption that people who succeed while acting in an unconventional manner must be lucky.
Twain also poked fun at that thinking as well. The hero in Luck, Lieutenant-General Lord Arthur Scoresby, was privately thought to be a fool and the luckiest man on earth to survive in the military for decades. Twain then brings up nearly a dozen events in which Scoresby went against conventional wisdom and managed to live, leaving the reader to wonder the question, “Was it really luck or was Scoresby just good at what he did?” He also attains a familiar and similar goal in The Story of the Bad Little Boy in which the main character survives many near-fatal events to become a pillar of society. Twain seems to ask, “Was the boy really lucky to survive his childhood or was society too uptight?”
Finally, in Science vs. Luck, Twain points out that games of “chance” are nothing more than complicated science or math problems. Once again, Twain intrigues the reader to consider whether the conservative view is the one and only view. Mark Twain wrote short stories with strong intent. He had a critical yet comical perspective that allowed him to see the humor in serious matters. Twain wrote about them in a way that was entertaining while also serving to share his perspective on his literature.
For those readers who took themselves too seriously, they probably only saw the humor part. To those who chose to read between the lines laughed, but also probably stopped to reflect on the message. In his unique way, Mark Twain may have changed the course of human nature and society with his writings.
Twain, Mark. The Complete Short Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.
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