Throughout Roughing It, Mark Twain frequently uses exaggeration, including the literary device of hyperbole—extreme exaggeration for effect. His narrator attempts to convince the reader of the extreme hardships that he endured in Nevada, as well as his intelligence and courage he displayed during all these adventures.
In the first chapter, the reader sees that the narrator will be indulging in exaggeration. He describes the envy he feels toward his brother, the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, for the adventures he is bound to have. The narrator’s long list of these novelties and exploits culminates in death and disfigurement through getting “hanged or scalped,” but includes those as part of a “fine time” that the brother will later recount in letters:
[H]e would be hundreds and hundreds of miles away on the great plains and deserts, and among the mountains of the Far West, and would see buffaloes and Indians, and prairie dogs, and antelopes, and have all kinds of adventures, and may be get hanged or scalped, and have ever such a fine time, and write home and tell us all about it, and be a hero.
The narrator frequently digresses from the subject at hand, and includes experiences from earlier adventures. In the course of discussing the taste of various foods and the appetites that different animals have, he introduces the topic of a camel that he encountered while working as a journalist in Syria (chapter III). The narrator provides a lengthy paragraph in which he paints a vivid picture of how the camel ate his overcoat, and then went on to devour a manuscript. The narrator exaggerates both what the camel ate and the effect of his prose, which ultimately killed the animal:
[The camel] took a chance in [eating]...manuscript letters written for the home papers. But he was treading on dangerous ground, now. He began to come across solid wisdom in those documents that was rather weighty on his stomach; and occasionally he would take a joke that would shake him up till it loosened his teeth; it was getting to be perilous times with him, but he held his grip with good courage and hopefully, till at last he began to stumble on statements that not even a camel could swallow with impunity. He began to gag and gasp, and his eyes to stand out, and his forelegs to spread, and in about a quarter of a minute he fell over as stiff as a carpenter’s work-bench, and died a death of indescribable agony.
An extended use of hyperbole occurs in chapter VII, when the narrator includes a story about a fellow passenger, Bemis, who chased a buffalo through the plains. When the buffalo charges the horse he is riding, Bemis is thrown off the saddle and climbs up “the only solitary tree there was in nine counties adjacent.” Loudly overcoming the narrator’s protestations that a buffalo cannot climb a tree, Bemis goes on to describe just how the animal did so:
“The bull started up, and got along well for about ten feet, then slipped and slid back. I breathed easier. He tried it again—got up a little higher—slipped again. But he came at it once more, and this time he was careful. He got gradually higher and higher, and my spirits went down more and more. Up he came—an inch at a time—with his eyes hot, and his tongue hanging out. Higher and higher—hitched his foot over the stump of a limb, and looked up, as much as to say, ‘You are my meat, friend.’ Up again—higher and higher, and getting more excited the closer he got.”