What American national stereotypes are Twain and Dudley satirizing or praising in the main characters?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is a complex relationship that Twain and Dudley hold towards national stereotypes. The "gilding" element is essential in this understanding.  Gilding seeks to further adorn something "already beautiful."  In such an idea, elements of praise and critique are present.  Twain and Dudley display a sense of admiration in the characterizations that embody the national stereotype of working towards the fulfillment of dreams.  Yet, there is criticism towards the "gilding" process of such hopes. One of the most significant national stereotypes that Twain and Dudley satirize is the economic promise attached to the "American Dream."  The idea of seeking material gain to such a point that it becomes the defining element of success or failure is significant to the novel's characterizations.  It is in this aspect where one can see both praise and critique offered.

One such instance is Laura.  Twain crafts Laura's character possessing resolve and a dream to sell off the land that was her father's primary motivation. Her "rags to riches" story is a significant aspect of the national stereotype embedded in the American Dream.  She grows up alone and abandoned. Despite this, she becomes so prominent and so worthwhile. Her story is reflective of the national stereotype of being fixated on a dream and ensuring that little will stand in the way of its fulfillment as she rises to the highest of levels in Washington political society. Yet, Twain is critiquing the materialist element within this dream. Laura's hopes in becoming a lobbyist is not to improve the lot of society.  It is not meant to preserve the social order or to enhance it.  Laura is not driven by the need to minimize human suffering.  She simply wants to turn a profit, something that motivated her father.  Her ending undercuts a praiseworthy story.  The desire for material ends is what Twain criticizes.  It represents the gilding of something beautiful.  It is in this where there is both praise and criticism towards national stereotypes.

Silas Hawkins's paternal legacy to his children is to  “never lose sight of the Tennessee Land."  This is a significant part of the national stereotype that depicts children as caretakers of the parents' vision.  Hawkins' message to his children is reflective of another aspect of the national stereotype where children are meant to do better than their parents.  This "success" is material- based, and it is here in which critique is offered.  As the children never do "lose sight" of their father's vision, misery follows them.  Corruption, moral and economic perversions, as well as losing one's own sense of right and wrong becomes the end result of children heeding the words of the parents. When Washington Hawkins relinquishes his father's warning,"The spell is broken, the life-long curse is ended!”  This reflects the satirizing or criticizing of placing money and material wealth above all else.  Washington has fulfilled his father's promise in becoming  “one of the richest men in the world” by giving up his claims to the means of financial wealth.  Such an action serves as repudiation of the national stereotype of money and material wealth being so determinant in human happiness.

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