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Mark twain is frequently described as an optimist who became an embittered old man...

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jessica1988 | eNoter

Posted June 17, 2013 at 1:02 AM via web

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Mark twain is frequently described as an optimist who became an embittered old man given over to outrage at the "damned human race". Considering this assertion, discuss how much of his work considered "social criticism."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 17, 2013 at 1:37 AM (Answer #1)

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I think that Twain writes from a "social criticism" point of view as he sees a change in American focus in the late 19th Century.  As the nation moved from farms to factories and as industrialization in America began to unify all sections in the nation, Twain began to see money and economic profit take over the nation.  He, himself, lost money in business deals and had to declare bankruptcy.  Twain's views became centered more on individual rights and individual entitlement against oppression.  Consider his embrace of women's rights, his defense of workers and of unions, as well as his critique of the time period's economic focus in the idea of the Gilded Age.  Twain's pessimism might have been influenced in what he saw as a fundamental change in American character.  The innocence and sense of pure optimism that is present in Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer is a goodness of character that Twain believes is part of American identity.  With the advent of growing materialism and coveting of money, this is something that he saw as fundamentally changing.  Twain's embrace of imperialism as a way to bring a perceived "goodness" into the world and then his rejection of it when he saw it as a tool of control is an example of this shift in the political realm and how it impacted his own thinking of the world.

It is here in which Twain's work operates as social criticism.  Twain's despondency and pessimism is the result of a shift in American consciousness that he sees as something for the worst and not the better.  It is noteworthy that Twain's production did not decrease in his later years.  While he was pessimistic about the turn that America underwent as a result of coveting money, Twain himself used his work and his presence as a way to speak out in favor of a vision more aligned with what he felt were the "better" aspects of American identity.  It is in this light where Twain's work can be considered "social criticism" in the hopes of providing a pivot from what is into what can and should be.

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