America's Own Mark Twain Essay - Critical Context

Jeanette Eaton

Critical Context

While many of Twain’s writings address an adult audience, few Americans enter adulthood without having read one or more of Twain’s books about the ingenuous Tom Sawyer or the inscrutable Huckleberry Finn. Therefore, this biography of the creator of these engaging characters is quite appropriate for young readers, especially because it discloses the close parallels between the real life of the creator and the fictional life of the creations. Eaton’s biography of Twain elucidates the magnetic personality, sharp wit, and dramatic skill of an author who has delighted and sparked the imagination of generations of young readers.

The readers of this book are treated to more than a well-written biography, however; they will also find brief, honest appraisals of the literary qualities of Twain’s major books. For example, Eaton notes that the efforts of the two boys in The Prince and the Pauper (1882) to better conditions for the poor and to revoke unjust laws “add purpose to the sweep of action.” She admits that, to fill the required two volumes of Life on the Mississippi (1883), Twain padded the script with stories and dated facts. Nevertheless, in spite of this weakness, the uproarious tales of his training to be a pilot give the book “high value as entertaining history.” About A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) she opines that the tale reveals Twain’s “deep humanity” and “the sweep of his imagination,” but unfortunately the episodes and humor “are apt to turn into preposterous burlesque.” Thus, Eaton’s work is lifted above mere biography, becoming also narrative, character analysis, and literary criticism.