Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910


  • 1835: Born in Florida, Missouri. Halley’s comet visible from earth.
  • Raised in Hannibal, Missouri (growing up in the 1840's), Hannibal later serves as the model town for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
  • Begins work as a journeyman printer with the Hannibal Gazette. Publishes first sketches.
  • Becomes a cub-pilot for Horace Bixby, a Mississippi River pilot. Spends next two years “learning” the river, later described in Life on the Mississippi.
  • In 1861 Civil War breaks out, halting river trade. Clemens serves two weeks with Confederate irregulars, then moves to Nevada with his brother Orion.
  • 1862-64, he travels around Nevada and California duing the Gold Rush. Takes job as reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.He settles in San Francisco. Writes for magazines and newspapers.
  • 1864-68 Humorist and Lecturer: "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1867)
  • Innocents Abroad (1869): Travels as correspondent to Europe and the Holy Land on the Quaker City. 
  • 1870 After achieving success in the NYC publishing world, Clemens married Olivia Langdon, from a High Victorian Eastern Society family, and settled in Connecticut. 
  • It was an interesting match: "Gilded Age America" meets "Southwestern Frontier Humor", like wild, rollicking, rowdy, fresh humor (w/ attendant racism & violence) crashing New England Party of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott and Co.
  • Roughing It; "The Story of the Old Ram" (1872)
  • Mark Twain (Chronology)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)


"Whitewashing the Fence" from Tom Sawyer (1876)

- Twain's Don Quixote: the eternal child
- America's Nostalgia for Lost Innocence: 1840's (compare to Winslow Homer)

from Chapter 6 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Huck Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Schmoop):

Shortly Tom came upon the juvenile pariah of the village, Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunkard. Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle and lawless and vulgar and bad—and because all their children admired him so, and delighted in his forbidden society, and wished they dared to be like him. Tom was like the rest of the respectable boys, in that he envied Huckleberry his gaudy outcast condition, and was under strict orders not to play with him. So he played with him every time he got a chance. Huckleberry was always dressed in the cast–off clothes of full–grown men, and they were in perennial bloom and fluttering with rags. His hat was a vast ruin with a wide crescent lopped out of its brim; his coat, when he wore one, hung nearly to his heels and had the rearward buttons far down the back; but one suspender supported his trousers; the seat of the trousers bagged low and contained nothing, the fringed legs dragged in the dirt when not rolled up.

Huckleberry came and went, at his own free will. He slept on doorsteps in fine weather and in empty hogsheads in wet; he did not have to go to school or to church, or call any being master or obey anybody; he could go fishing or swimming when and where he chose, and stay as long as it suited him; nobody forbade him to fight; he could sit up as late as he pleased; he was always the first boy that went barefoot in the spring and the last to resume leather in the fall; he never had to wash, nor put on clean clothes; he could swear wonderfully. In a word, everything that goes to make life precious that boy had. So thought every harassed, hampered, respectable boy in St. Petersburg.

Tom hailed the romantic outcast:

"Hello, Huckleberry!"

"Hello yourself, and see how you like it."

"What's that you got?"

"Dead cat."


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(1876-1885)
  • Huck's Adventures vs. Tom's Adventures:
  • A Rite of Passage into an Adult World (full of abuse, slave hunters, con men, and murderers)
  • Twain's Warning: Notice: No Answers Here

Twain's Style

  • 1st Person Narrator (How does the reader discover the truth?)
  • Just letting his characters talk:  Watch for Silences and Omissions