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he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it certainly succeeded.
Twain's famous short story opens with a reasonable statement of fact in the first paragraph then descends--or rises, depending on one's perspective--to hyperbole fit to set the stage for more to come. Hyperbole is a rhetorical term for a device that is used in literary works to elaborate on points made; expand upon characterizations; enlarge imagery; and in general add greater flavor and breadth through the fine art of exaggeration. In Twain's hands, the literary device (being a figurative word scheme) of hyperbole adds humor and comedic effects. [Just as a point of contrast, in Shakespeare's hands, the same device of hyperbole can intensify drama and enhance tragic effects; recall the hyperbole in Hamlet.]
The hyperbole--the exaggeration--in the section quoted above lies here:
- bore me nearly to death
- infernal reminiscence
The first is hyperbole (i.e., exaggeration) because surely the tale did not bring about our frame-narrator's death (the story is first narrated by the friend of the man who wrote from the East, then narrated by Simon Wheeler: "I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once:").
The second is hyperbole because the allusion to infernal Hell fire in describing the recollection of a memory is too strong and surely chosen by the narrator to express his exaggerated annoyance rather than to actually describe the "reminiscence."
Wheeler is no less agile as a narrator in his use of hyperbole. In fact, it is in Wheeler's hyperbole where Twain excels in this literary device. A hardy example, and easy to comprehend, lies in Wheeler's early discussion about Smiley's propensity to bet and to hang onto a bet until its results are fairly determined. Wheeler, speaking as the second narrator, says that Smiley would go to great extremes to determine the legitimate outcome of a bet and emphasizes his point with the following hyperbole:
he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico ....
Other hyperbolic (exaggerated) statementsin the story are:
- After being fed lead"quail shot" (ammunition) Wheeler said Daniel the frog was "planted as solid as an anvil."
- Earlier in the story, Wheeler describes Smiley's bull pup, saying that when money was bet on him "his underjaw'd begin to stick out like the fo'castle of a steamboat."
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