What does Life on the Mississippi suggest about gender?

Life on the Mississippi suggests that the world onboard steamboats is gendered male. While Mark Twain offers considerable information about masculinity, including learning to be a pilot as a male coming-of-age process. He rarely comments on female identity or male–female relations.

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In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain details the narrator’s coming of age through the process of learning to be a steamboat pilot, which fulfilled his boyhood dream. He presents this way of life as almost exclusively male. The other pilots and the boats’s crews are all male, and there are very few female characters in the memoir. Mentoring by an older man and pilot is essential in this process. Twain also suggests that masculinity depends on intellect, including telling stories, as much as on physical abilities.

Twain mentions a few women they meet in passing or presents them as types rather than individuals. Example include a woman with tattoos or a negro woman. In a story that Karl Reiter tells, his wife and child are the victims of murder committed in the course of a home invasion. Reiter tells the narrator

My wife was young, beautiful, loving, and oh, so divinely good and blameless and gentle!

The narrator, referring to women’s effect on journalists, reveals some anxiety. Women seem to be either archetypes of sin and corruption or the idealized wives that Retier seems to idealize.

The trouble with the Southern reporter is—Women. They unsettle him; they throw him off his balance. He is plain, and sensible, and satisfactory, until a woman heaves in sight. Then he goes all to pieces; his mind totters, he becomes flowery and idiotic.

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