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What is Mark Twain's central idea in "Advice to Youth"?I read a passage in his address...

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nicole21 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 5, 2010 at 2:00 AM via web

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What is Mark Twain's central idea in "Advice to Youth"?

I read a passage in his address and I do not understand Twain's point.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 5, 2010 at 2:12 AM (Answer #1)

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In my opinion, the main idea of this essay or lecture is that conventional morality and conventional sermons about morality are totally worthless.  This is a theme that Twain explores in books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and I believe he is doing it again here.

I think he is saying that conventional sermons and the morality they are trying to pass along are sanctimonious and fake.  I think he is trying to tell people that they should think for themselves rather than just swallowing the moral lessons that they are given by their parents, teachers, and so on.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 5, 2010 at 3:00 AM (Answer #2)

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Is it not amazing that anyone would ask Mark Twain, America's curmudgeon, to address a group of young girls?  As so cogently put on the site listed below, it did, indeed, "turn the conventional moral lecture on its head."

Yet, in his satire--as is usually the case with satire--Twain does give some solid moral advice.  The main point is what the previous poster has succinctly written, conventional wisdom is often hypocritical and phony:  Getting up with the lark does not make one a better person, obeying one's parents simply because they are the parents teaches nothing, the truth does not always prevail, and guns do not always kill people.

If, however, one understands Twain's satire, one realizes that he--perhaps more than many others--truly believes in moral behavior, for he quips that he has not learned how to "practice this gracious and beautiful art."  And art it is, not reality.  The perspicacious listener, then, would have discerned this valuable lesson and long remembered it, as is usually the case with satire.

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