Life on the Mississippi

by Mark Twain
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How does Twain describe the town of Hannibal, Missouri, and the surrounding area?

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In chapter 4, Twain describes Hannibal, Missouri, sometimes as a village and sometimes as a town. It is a very rural, sleepy, quaint place. For example, he describes a "white town drowsing in the sunshine," empty streets, store clerks snoozing with their "hats slouched over their faces," "a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk," and "two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the 'levee.'" In the background, the Mississippi laps peacefully against the wharf.

This peaceful, sleepy scene changes with the arrival of a steamboat. Hannibal then seems to come alive, and "every house and store pours out a human contribution." Everybody rushes down to the wharf, and there is a scramble to "take in freight and to discharge freight, all at one and the same time." Ten minutes after the steamboat leaves, "the town is dead again, and the town drunkard asleep by the skids once more."

In chapter 54, Twain revisits his childhood town of Hannibal. He climbs Holiday's Hill for a "comprehensive view" of the town. From the hill, Twain describes the "wooded expanses of Illinois" as "beautiful . . . young and fresh and comely and gracious."

In chapter 55, Twain describes the ways in which Hannibal has changed since his childhood. Firstly, it has become much bigger—it is now no longer a town or a village, but "a city, with a mayor and a council, and water-works." It is a busy place, "thriving and energetic . . . and is paved like the rest of the west and south." There is also a new and expensive railway depot. Twain describes Bear Creek as "hidden out of sight now, under islands and continents of piled lumber."

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