Discuss how Twain created suspense in the story, "The Californian’s Tale."

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"The Californian's Tale" concerns a prospector that comes across a cottage home that is surprisingly well taken care of among the homes in the region. He meets a man in his 40's named Henry that is completely preoccupied with his love for his wife, and insists that the narrator stay to meet her when she returns from "seeing her people" at the end of the week.

Over the next few days, many friends stop by to check on Henry, until finally they throw a party on the evening that his wife is meant to return. It seems that Henry's wife will never arrive as his anxieties mount, until at last he passes out from being drugged by his friends. His friends then reveal to the narrator that Henry's wife has been dead for 19 years, and that they engage in this facade every year to preserve Henry's fragile sanity.

The reader knows something is immediately amiss by Henry's obsession with his wife. While he is showing the narrator the house, Henry does not simply show his guest a picture as a normal person would, but instead is expectantly waiting for the narrator to find it. Henry has the infatuation and general disposition of a much younger man, almost as if a teenager were living in the body of a 40-something. This comparison may be fairly analogous to the actual case, as we are unsure of Henry's comprehension of the passage of time. Furthermore, we begin to suspect that his friends are up to something, as their inquiries and responses seem so rehearsed. Men who meet with Henry on separate occasions use the same phrases and sentiments.

Finally, the suspense rises to a breaking point when we see Henry completely lose himself to panic, even before the time that his wife is supposed to arrive. We know in this moment that he has lost his mind, without needing the closing exposition of the story.

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In Mark Twain's tale, entitled, "The Californian's," the author's use of suspense creeps up on the reader almost without notice.

Twain spends the first part of the story describing the land and the houses that are forlorn and abandoned in this melancholy expanse of openness—with one exception. The Gold Rush has passed through, and those who struck it rich or failed have moved on, but those who remain have lost their wealth, and their humiliation at doing so has made them stay. The sense of the forlorn and abandonment applies to most of the occupants of this little town which barely exists.

The speaker comes upon a little house, so unlike the others, where flowers grow and the yard and home are lovingly tended. This does not necessarily create suspense, but throws the reader off a little by presenting a little oasis in the midst of the decimated landscape: this perfect little home.

We listen to the man of the house, Henry, and we learn of his dear wife who he so loves, who will be returning soon. He shows the speaker all the things Henry attributes to her talents, and it's almost possible to miss that he speaks of all she has done, using the past tense, which sounds only slightly awkward in that he refers also to her returning in the near future.

In the midst of this part of the story, Henry's desire to keep things in perfect order and his anticipation for his wife's return begin to wear on the reader, though at first we cannot be sure why. The suspense, I believe, is subtly introduced with Henry's almost obsessive attention to every detail and the fervent way he implores the reader to stay to meet her.

All the while, neighbors, the "living dead men," as Twain describes them, stop by, almost in a rehearsed fashion, to ask about the wife's return and to read the letter the husband carries in his wallet. One man, Tom, starts to get tears in his eyes, a sure instance of foreshadowing, but he explains it away so reasonably (because he is old and learning that he has to wait longer to see her makes him sad), that one cannot be sure it's important.

As the time for the wife's return approaches, the speaker looks at his watch. Henry's doubt and worry start to rapidly, unnaturally, escalate, as he worries—without seeming good reason—that something may have happened to his wife. While this annoys the speaker, Henry's friends arrive and calm Henry's fears. The insidious suspicion that something may be wrong subtly presents itself in the intensity of Henry's near-hysteria. Perhaps the beautiful little house, so out of place in this ghost town, rankles with the reader. And it is not until the narrator is told not to take the drink he first reaches for that we are alerted that something is definitely off.

From this point on, the climax and resolution move smoothly together as we learn that Henry's wife has been dead for nineteen years.

In a way, this tale has all the telltale marks of a ghost story. Twain's ability to string us along with the beauty of love, surrounded by the desolation of lost hopes and dreams, allows us to be blindsided because the suspense exists beneath the surface, only to be seen by the most observant reader. The story is "smoke and mirrors," as the details are there for us to see, but only if we are particularly attentive. He provides beauty and hope that are out of place, and a sudden fearfulness to captivate us, so we are almost completely unprepared for news of Henry's wife.

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What are three or more ways that Twain builds suspense in the story "The Californian's Tale"?

Author Mark Twain brilliantly blends several themes together in his short story “The Californian’s Tale.” The mystery presented deals with thematic concepts such as life and death, dreams and reality, and the impact of failure on the lives of Americans drawn to California’s Stanislaus River during the Gold Rush days in the late 1800s and the settling of the American West.

Twain slowly builds suspense in this tale by using at least three different literary methods: foreshadowing or providing hints to help the reader develop expectations of things to come; dialogue or conversational passages focusing on a particular subject matter; and imagery or figurative language that creates visual ideas in the reader’s mind.

The central mystery in “The Californian’s Tale” revolves around the apparent disappearance of a woman. The narrator relates a tale about an incident from thirty-five years earlier when he was panning for gold along the river. He encounters Henry, a miner who is happy to see him and invites him into his cabin. The narrator is enamored with the décor in the cabin and Henry promptly reveals that his wife has created the immaculate atmosphere without any help from him:

“All her work, he said, caressingly; she did it all herself-every bit, and he took the room in with a glance which was full of affectionate worship . . . All her work; she did it all herself -- every bit. Nothing here that hasn't felt the touch of her hand.”

The narrator is anxious to meet Henry’s wife, but is told she was away and would be back in a few days. Thereafter, Henry is visited by other friends, all of whom are equally anxious to see Henry’s wife who never arrives on Saturday as promised. The friends are preparing for a party to celebrate the woman’s birthday and in the process drug Henry until he falls asleep. As the friends begin to leave the cabin, the narrator, still hopeful, asks them to stay and the mystery is finally revealed:

“Then they seemed preparing to leave; but I said: Please don't go, gentlemen. She won't know me; I am a stranger.

They glanced at each other. Then Joe said:

She? Poor thing, she's been dead nineteen years!


That or worse. She went to see her folks half a year after she was married, and on her way back, on a Saturday evening, the Indians captured her within five miles of this place, and she's never been heard of since.”

After losing his spouse, Henry has gone mad.

To advance the plot and create suspense, foreshadowing is a major device used by the author and it occurs regularly throughout the story. For example, upon arriving in Stanislaus, the narrator anticipates a thriving and vibrant community. Instead, he discovers a lonely desolate place, with the exception of Henry’s cabin. The cabin is in stark contrast to the surrounding land that “had once been populous, long years before, but now the people had vanished and the charming paradise was a solitude.” The lively atmosphere of the town is no more, except for Henry’s house. The reader knows something is wrong and the suspense builds.

Twain’s use of dialogue also serves to build the reader’s level of anticipation from the beginning of the tale to the end. For example, Henry responds to the narrator and the reader feels the tension:

“Where is she? When will she be in?

Oh, she's away now. She's gone to see her people. They live forty or fifty miles from here. She's been gone two weeks today.

When do you expect her back?

This is Wednesday. She'll be back Saturday, in the evening-about nine o'clock, likely.

I felt a sharp sense of disappointment.”

Imagery is a literary device that helps to mold the mysterious conflicts and multiple themes. Twain paints a mental picture using description alone to encapsulate the entire story into a vision imprinted in the reader’s mind:

“It was delightful to be in such a place, after long weeks of daily and nightly familiarity with miners' cabins -- with all which this implies of dirt floor, never-made beds, tin plates and cups, bacon and beans and black coffee, and nothing of ornament but war pictures from the Eastern illustrated papers tacked to the log walls. That was all hard, cheerless, materialistic desolation, but here was a nest which had aspects to rest the tired eye and refresh that something in one's nature which, after long fasting, recognizes, when confronted by the belongings of art, howsoever cheap and modest they may be, that it has unconsciously been famishing and now has found nourishment.”

The images described leave no doubt in the mind of the reader that something is awry. The cabin is out of place and the suspense builds as the reader cannot help but believe that it does not reflect reality.

Mark Twain builds suspense in “The Californian’s Tale” in various ways using literary devices. These include, but are not limited to, foreshadowing, dialogue, and imagery.

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What are three or more ways that Twain builds suspense in the story "The Californian's Tale"?

In his short story "The Californian's Tale," Mark Twain generates suspense through conventional means of plot devices but also, more importantly, through sophisticated narrative strategies. He uses pacing, selective disclosure, and description to generate suspense. For example, Twain builds suspense by varying the pace of the story. He starts off very slow and then speeds up the narrative as he goes. The change in speed corresponds to a change in the level of information that is being disclosed. For example, the reader is first given general impressions of a landscape as seen through the lens of the narrator's sensibility. Only then does Twain start to reveal that there is a focus to the vague sense of mystery that haunts the tale from the outset. Finally, Twain uses descriptive passages to heighten the reader's emotional investment in the suspense. For example, the contents of the little cottage are described so carefully that the reader feels a sense of intimacy with the dwelling, while sensing that the cottage is saturated with the traces of someone who is not there. Twain creates a haunting effect of being caught between knowing and not knowing what is going on.

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What are three or more ways that Twain builds suspense in the story "The Californian's Tale"?

Mark Twain builds suspense with the setting, the letter, and the warning about the whiskey.

When the narrator gets to the town, he explains that it was abandoned long ago after all the gold was mined. However, a man is there in a nice house that looks as if a woman decorated it. His appearance in a seemingly abandoned town is suspenseful because it's unexpected. The narrator agrees to stay with him until his wife gets home several days later so that he can meet her.

Next, Henry's friend Tom comes by to ask if there's news or a return date for his wife. The letter that Henry pulls out and reads is yellowed with age. Tom cries when he hears it. When Joe comes the next day, he also cries at the letter. This is an unusual reaction to a happy, newsy letter and is suspenseful.

Finally, when Tom and Joe return and pour two glasses of whiskey for Henry and the narrator, they quickly warn the narrator to take the other glass instead of the one he reaches for. This is alarming and causes more suspense for the reader, though Twain quickly clears things up.

The glass ends up being drugged; it's their way of helping their friend cope with the loss of his wife years ago. He becomes anxious near the date of her capture and believes she's still alive and will soon return home. They visit him, drug him, and then he's okay for another year.

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