In Mark Twain's "Luck," what elements of satire are used? What is Mark Twain's reason for using satire in the story, and what message is he trying to send by using the satire?

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Mark Twain was and still is a master of satire. Many of his writings employ satirical techniques that express or expose an enlightening message or lesson through irony, exaggeration or humorous ridicule.

In the short story entitled “Luck,” Twain uses satire as a technique to ridicule or expose the human instinct to worship a mere human being based on his accomplishments which may have been achieved through pure luck. The main character is known as Scoresby, a military leader who is the guest of honor at a military banquet to which Twain has been invited. Scoresby has become an idolized leader decorated with medals based on his “lucky” accomplishments.

According to the clergyman who is sitting on Twain’s left at the banquet table, Scoresby is a lucky but ordinary human being who has found success through accidental military incidents. Years and years ago, the clergyman was an instructor at Woolwich Military Academy, where Scoresby was seeking to enroll. The clergyman, who was then an instructor, recognized that Scoresby was not prepared to succeed because his lack of knowledge was apparent to the clergyman—then a knowledgeable instructor. As Scoresby prepared for his preliminary examination, the clergyman, out of pity, tutored and crammed knowledge into Scoresby but ultimately expected his imminent elimination. Somehow, Scoresby luckily and correctly answered the examination questions. The clergyman was amazed at how lucky Scoresby was. He was given only questions that the clergyman had crammed into his head.

At the banquet, the clergyman reveals the secret that only he knows and declares to Twain the Scoresby is “an absolute fool.” Twain is interested in such a comment. Twain, too, has been one of Scoresby's many admirers. Twain listens intently as the clergyman shares the truth. The clergyman continues with his story that Scoresby is one of the luckiest of men because no one has ever discovered that Scoresby is actually an absolute fool. Years ago, the clergyman was assigned to Scoresby's regiment and was the only one to discover what a fool Scoresby actually happened to be. Luckily, Scoresby succeeded in becoming one of the most honored of military leaders. His blunders luckily turned into victories and Scoresby continued to excel and rise in rank in the military. Now, years later, the clergyman who knows the truth cannot resist sharing the truth with Twain. “He’s an absolute fool,” states the clergyman.

 In this short story, Twain takes advantage of his new knowledge and writes a satire which ridicules and exposes the tendency of human beings to exalt and honor ordinary human beings as if these human beings have a god-like status. Twain uses satire to enlighten people about the truth that ordinary human beings can become successful by chance and their extraordinary accomplishments are not deserving of such heroic status just because of the luck they may have encountered. Twain is exposing the truth through satirical humorous ridicule to teach people that it is ridiculous to worship people who have ironically become heroes based on luck or fortunate incidents. In this short story, properly entitled “Luck,” Twain craftily expresses through satirical humor that people in general can become enthralled with an individual to the point of idolization. For this reason, Twain uses satire to point out that it is easy to put great faith in an ordinary individual who has become extraordinary based on pure luck. His message is that people in general are often foolish themselves because they put ordinary people on a pedestal and bow in adoration as if the ordinary human being is somehow worthy of heroic worship. In other words, the banquet is in honor of an “absolute fool” according to the clergyman who years ago discovered the truth that Scoresby achieved his honorable military status through pure luck. After reading this satire, the reader himself or herself feels foolish for possibly falling into the category of often being fooled by a fool. Oh, how foolish people can be.

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Satire is generally defined as the use of a humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose or criticize some element of society.  Modern day comedians use satire in much of their stand-up comedy to present satire.  Mark Twain was a master of satire in most of his writing.

In the short story "Luck," Twain primarily uses humor and irony to make the point that our society -- at his time, in particular, though it generally holds true today -- glorifies people as heroes, without always knowing the truth about the person.  And the more someone begins receiving positive recognition, the more it will continue.  The protagonist in "Luck," introduced initially as "Lt. Gen. Lord Arthur Scoresby, V.C., K.C.B., etc., etc., etc.," is a perfect example.  In fact, that introduction alone shows the public's fascination with titles and credentials.  The "etc., etc., etc.," is Twain's way of poking fun at the initials after the person's name, which make him seem important, even though we may not know what they actually mean.  Twain makes the point explicitly in the next sentence when he says, "What a fascination there is in a renowned name!"  Not in the man and his actual, accomplishments -- just in his name.  This is satire.

The story then progresses, with several examples of Scoresby's luck:  the way he passes exams at school, his mistakes in battle that turn out to be lucky successes -- and each time he makes a mistake and gets out of it through luck, the people around him pass it off as a success, giving Scoresby credit for unearned brilliance.  His reputation becomes greater than his actual deeds, and Twain shows that society is happy to accept that.  Scoresby gets promoted over and over, when the narrator (who knows the truth) keeps expecting him to be found out.  In the story's conclusion, the narrator brings it together:  "Look at his (Scoresby's) breast; why, he is just clothed in domestic and foreign decorations.  Well, sir, every one of them is the record of some shouting stupidity or other...."  Twain is using satire to show us that Scoresby's stupidity is mirrored in the stupidity of the society that kept promoting him and, ultimately, honoring him at this banquet.


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