Life on the Mississippi

by Mark Twain

Start Free Trial

What does Twain mean when he says "the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river"? What is an example of another instance like this one.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Early in Twain's life and career, the river was a place of mystery, excitement, and grandeur; however, those feelings changed as Twain spent more time dealing with the river in a professional relationship. Those small nuances of the river used to be inexplicable to him and give him a sense of childlike wonder about the river. As a steamboat captain, those small nuances all have been explained or represent things that can help or hurt the boat.

I find it a bit sad that Twain can't see how knowing those things can help his romantic feelings change. His depth of knowledge of the river has vastly increased. If anything, he should find the river more amazing. It's romantic and magical as well as significant.

Facetiously, I would hope that Twain never had the same attitude and feelings regarding women in his life. It would mean that as soon as he really got to know someone, the feelings of romance, beauty, and magic would no longer be a part of the relationship.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this quote, Twain contrasts how one experiences the Mississippi when merely viewing it with new, innocent eyes and how one experiences it as a steamboat pilot, working on the river day after day.

For example, when Twain first sees the river, he dwells on its beauty. He remembers a particular sunset when the river was still new to him. He describes it in poetic terms:

A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal . . .

Later, however, as a steamboat professional, all this beauty will simply represent the different potential dangers he faces while piloting his boat. For example, the floating log means that the river is rising, and the slanting mark represents a bluff reef that will damage or "kill" someone's steamboat if it keeps growing. As Twain puts it,

All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!

As a comparison to help us understand how a professional job can take the romance from life, Twain notes how the red cheeks of a young woman might look beautiful to the average person, but to a doctor they could indicate consumption or tuberculosis, a deadly disease. To make this relatable to us, how many of us have gotten a first job at a place we loved to shop or eat, only to find that it looks a lot less appealing from the other side of the cash register? We too might say that the "beauty and romance were all gone" from that place.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

By the time of your quote, learning-to-be-a-steamboat-pilot Twain has realized that he has lost his romanticized vision of what becoming a pilot means. Before starting that process, Twain had imagined that there would be fine adventures and great prestige in piloting one of the great Mississippi steamboats. He had not realized the tremendous amount of work and learning that he was undertaking when he became Bixby's pupil, and he could not know that the learning process would destroy the appreciation of the river's beauty that had been part of the original attraction.

All the value any feature of it (the river) had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team