What elements are unique to Mark Twain's style? How could you identify a passage as Mark Twain if it were unidentified?   Thanks!

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly Twain has an inimitable style.  His accomplished use of dialect is always salient; however there are other techniques that he uses that somehow differ from other writers.  For instance, his social commentary is much more subtle than the satire of other writers.  Afterall, there have been many a reader of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," or "The Prince and the Pauper" who have enjoyed these narratives told by seemingly artless narrators without realizing Twain's cynicism toward society.  A simple line from "Conneticut Yankee" such as

The old abbot's joy to see me was pathetic. Even to tears; but he did the shedding himself

points to this cynicism. As one critic has remarked,

The rich comedy of his narratives are often undercut by a darkness and a depth of seriousness which give his works an ambivalence, an ambivalence which reflects Twain's own divided nature. 

In the descriptions of the escapades of the Duke and the King in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," for example, the reader also perceives the criticism and disappointment in the predatory nature of man who would exploit people when they are most vulnerable, such as after the death of a loved one.  With his artless narrator--another trademark--Twain describes how the two scoundrels take advantage of the Wilks' family whose father dies.  The king quickly sells the slaves.  When they are separated Huck notices the grief of the family at losing their servants:

I thought them poor girls and them n--s would break their hearts for grief; they cried around each other, and took on so it most made  me down sick to see it.  The girls said they hadn't ever dreamed of seeing the family separated or sold away from the town....I couldn't a stood it all...if I hadn't knowed the sale warn't no account and the n--s would be back home in a week or wto.

Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper," a charming tale of switched identities, is also a social commentary as the prince, reduced to being treated as a menial person, comes to realize some of the injustices of his kingdom.

As long as the king lived he was fond of telling the story of his adventures, all through,....He said that the frequent rehearsing of the precious lesson kept him strong in his pupose to make its teachings yield benefits to his people...and thus keep its sorrowful spectacles fresh in his memory and the springs of pity replenished in his heart.

With simple, seemingly artless narrators and a understated style, Twain leads  readers to arrive at the social commentary of his narratives on their own.  This subtlety and, at times, ambivalence is characteristic of Mark Twain's style.




mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Twain has several distinct stylistic traits.  One is his excellent and frequent use of dialect.  Dialect is the distinctive way that a group of people from a local area speaks.  For example, people in Northern Minnesota have a different dialect than people from West Virginia; they have different accents.  Twain was an excellent recorder of dialects, and was passionate about recording the way people spoke exactly.  He felt so strongly about it that at the beginning of his book "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," he states, "In this book a number of different dialects are used," and then he goes on to explain each and every type of dialect that he uses, so that

"readers would [not] suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding."

It is a rather funny note to explain the usage of dialects.  So, watch for that.

Another distinctive trait of Twain's was his sense of humor.  His writings are almost always humorous and have an element of satire to them.  Satire is when you point out the absurdities of something by making fun of it a bit; so, if you notice characters with extreme personality traits or elaborate and exaggerated descriptions of things, then Twain might just be satirizing.  For example, in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," an older lady is explaining what heaven is to Huck, a 10-12 year old boy, and Twain describes her as saying that it is a place where people just floated on clouds and played harps all day.  Huck's reaction to this is, "I didn't think much of it."  This is classic Twain.  He inserts funny observations and satirical elements in a lot of his writing.

I hope that those two elements of style--dialect and satire--will help you in identifying more of Twain's work.  Good luck!

epollock | Student

Mark Twain's writing style, Twain---the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, American writer and humorist, is characterized by broad, often irreverent humor or biting social satire. Twain’s writing is also known for realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression.

In the decades after the Civil War, Mark Twain introduced a new voice into American writing—fresh, impudent, boisterous, rough, and at times infantile. He brought the West into our literature, made it possible for grotesque Southwestern humor to be mainstreamed, poked fun at the genteel pretensions of New England (while also establishing himself as one of its new citizens), and left us a legacy of two children's stories that are central to our folklore: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

In some of the most heightened passages in his stories, Twain seems to suggest that the ultimate medium of life is fog or vastness, that we are always in the mists, and that contours are always blurred. In the river scene in "Huck Finn" where Huck and Jim are separated by fog, Twain suggests the utter factitiousness of identity itself. This can also be seen in the cave scene with Tom and Becky in "Tom Sawyer."

user7869791 | Student

Many who have read Mark Twain’s works are aware of his keen satire, present in several of his novels especially in “The adventures of Tom Sawyer”. He is a humorist and satirical writer. Moreover, Mark Twain used everyday American language to tell his story, and he was the first one to use vernacular speaking characters and narrator.

There are three main styles of his writing.

- The humor (The satire)

Twain does not confine himself to tell a simple children’s story. He is always the satirist and commentator on the foibles of human nature. In “The adventures of Tom Sawyer”, he is content with mild admonitions about the human race. For example, after Tom has tricked the other boys into painting the fence for him, the voice of Mark Twain points out the gullibility of man: “…that on order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain”.

The humor in Chapter II of “The adventures of Tom Sawyer” is implied in the way he used the language. For instance, he referred to “a wise philosopher, like the author of the book” or some comparison and contrast in the chapter.

Mark Twain also criticizes the adult attitudes and behaviors throughout the novel. That is a part of the conflict: The maturation of Tom into adulthood conflicting with the disapproval of the adult behaviors that exist. It is the double vision that raises the novel above the level of a boy’s adventure story.  

- The realism

As the flow of ideas lead people to follow, a new age of Literature called Romanticism had dawned and stressed the freedom to be highly imaginative, emotional and spontaneous, declaring the worth, goodness and the beauty of the ideal society.

Following a decade of deaths and destruction caused by the civil war, the decade of 1870s had shown its repercussions through writers who devotedly promoted the portrayal of characters and situations that appear to be drawn from the “real life” as it actually is, such as poverty, corruption, hypocrisy, vanity and materialism of the society.

In “The adventures of Tom Sawyer”, he embraced themes connected to his early life as a child and to realistic beliefs he developed as he grew up by the observing the American society. Since the decade of 1870’s, “The adventure of Tom Sawyer” had been influential to many succeeding generations for a theme that opened the eyes of many Americans and influenced the mindset of writers by seeing the frail nature of humans.

Through the story’s structure, setting, plot, characters and styles, a reader can develop a general idea that “every man has a good nature but as well evil and imperfect nature” and “People want things more if they think they can’t have them”.

- The simplicity

Mark Twain’s writing style is simple and straightforward. It is extremely realistic for that specific time period in history.

He likes to keep his style simple and convey his thoughts and ideas in a boyish tone. In Tom Sawyer, he did not use much figurative language because he wanted to keep the language genuine and very truthful. He did not use many similes, metaphors, or personification in his writing because he wanted to keep it original. However, especially in Chapter II, he liked to use accents and slang words to bring his characters to life: “Ole missis, she tole me I got go to go an’ git dis water an’ not sop foolin’ roun’ wid anybody”.

He brought all of American experiences in all his contradictions and complexity into novels, essays and autobiography

cellomaganja | Student