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In Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions," what is the irony present, particularly in...

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bookwormmm | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted October 10, 2011 at 6:57 AM via web

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In Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions," what is the irony present, particularly in paragraph six?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:32 AM (Answer #1)

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In Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions," I think that Twain's general perceptions, based upon knowledge pointed out by his friend Jerry, is that original ideas are few and far between, if there has ever really been such a thing.

It may be that such [a first-hand] opinion has been born somewhere, at some time or other, but I suppose it got away before they could catch it and stuff it and put it in the museum.

Twain concedes that change comes and goes, but it is not because people reason things out. He seems convinced that it occurs because people get used to things and accept them.

I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing -- if it has indeed ever existed.

So Twain goes on to explain that all people look for self-approval. Even if they must change their minds the next day to find it with a new opinion, they will do so. (This sounds a lot like Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance.") However, Twain insists that self-approval comes from the larger issue—what the masses believe. He relates that every member of any group believes as he does because of the way the rest of the group believes: not because the man has an original thought that agrees with another man's original thought. It comes down to agreeing with what others think to begin with. He notes:

...but, speaking in general terms, a man's self-approval in the large concerns of life has its source in the approval of the peoples about him, and not in a searching personal examination of the matter.

The irony I find in this piece is that if what Twain says is true—that no one ever has an original idea, that people have only corn-pone ideas, based on simply agreeing with someone else...

...broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people...

...then Twain's entire piece would, logically, be "corn-pone opinion" as well. For if there is no one with an original idea, and a man's sense of self-approval comes with going along with the opinions of the populace, must that not be what Twain is also doing in his writing? However, as a man of wit and satire, I doubt this point would have slipped Twain's notice, but that he would willingly have lumped himself in with a group and laughed for all those readers who took the reading much too seriously.

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