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

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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.




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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...

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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!

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