The Autobiography of Mark Twain Questions and Answers
by Mark Twain

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To become the mesmerizer's subject, twain must displace hicks. Twain presents himself different from hicks. Based on the contrast, what does twain seem to value and admire in a person?

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Twain definitely seems to dislike Hicks, and think of him as unworthy to be a hero: "It filled me with bitterness to have others do it, and to have people make a hero of Hicks ... Hicks—the idea! I couldn't stand it; I was getting boiled to death in my own bile."

As a fifteen-year-old boy, Twain thinks Hicks is dull and lacks both imagination and strength of mind. In his youth he prefers imagination and flair to constancy and honesty (though we may well wonder how "honest" Hicks really is if he swears he's seeing the things the mesmerizer tells him to):

Hicks was born honest; I, without that encumbrance—so some people said. ...

Hicks had no imagination, I had a double supply. ...

He was born calm, I was born excited. No vision could start a rapture in him, and he was constipated as to language, anyway; but if I saw a vision I emptied the dictionary onto it and lost the remnant of my mind into the bargain.

Twain sees his gift for acting and illusion as a matter of competency; he succeeds where Hicks fails and so is much better qualified to be the subject.

Hicks could never have been mesmerized to the point where he could kiss an imaginary girl in public, or a real one either, but I was competent.

Twain sees Hicks as having "defects"—and so we see where the young Twain thinks a boy should be competent: in imagination and the ability to enthrall an audience. He sees a hero as someone who can maintain the personality and presence of someone spectacular:

He had shown several bad defects, and I had made a note of them. For instance, if the magician asked, "What do you see?" and left him to invent a vision for himself, Hicks was dumb and blind, he couldn't see a thing nor say a word, whereas the magician soon found that when it came to seeing visions of a stunning and marketable sort I could get along better without his help than with it.

Finally, we learn about Hicks's lack of willpower, or conviction; he can't hold still while jabbed with needles and pins though the magician says his body should be numb. Twain, however, succeeds in faking it through sheer determination.

But I didn't wince; I only suffered, and shed tears on the inside. The miseries that a conceited boy will endure to keep up his "reputation"!

But does Twain still value the qualities he valued then? It seems unlikely to me, since he tries to confess the truth to his mother many years after the fact when he is a grown man. He comes to hate the memory of his deception, calling it:

a passage in my life which for pride`s sake I wished to forget.

He also implies that he feels now the shame he did not feel then:

Now, after more than fifty years, I acknowledge, with a few dry old tears, that I rejoiced without shame.

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