Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The essence of this tale is in fact a true story. During one of the many summers that Mark Twain spent near Elmira, New York, he heard the story from Mary Ann (“Auntie”) Cord, a former slave who worked at his sister-in-law’s farm. Aunt Rachel’s “Misto C——” is thus “Mr. Clemens”—Twain himself. In November, 1874, Twain published the story in the Atlantic Monthly. It was his first contribution to that prestigious magazine, as well as one of the earliest stories in which he developed a fully rounded African American character and one of the few stories that he ever wrote featuring a strong woman character.

At its simplest level, “A True Story” concerns human endurance in the face of terrible personal loss. Although raised a slave and violently separated from her loving husband and children, Aunt Rachel has remained strong and exceptionally cheerful. So cheerful is she, in fact, that the narrator, who presumably has known her for years, has no inkling of the troubles that she has endured.

At a deeper level, “A True Story” is a tale of revelation—the revelation to a white person that African Americans—even slaves—can share similar feelings of love and devotion. Early in her narrative, Aunt Rachel tells the narrator that her husbandwas lovin’ an’ kind to me, jist as kind as you is to yo’ own wife. An’ we had chil’en—seven chil’en—an’ we loved dem chil’en jist de same as you loves yo’...

(The entire section is 431 words.)