Mark Twain Questions and Answers

Mark Twain book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the goal of Mark Twain's "Advice to Youth"?

Expert Answers info

Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write2,306 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

"Advice to Youth" is a satirical essay written by Mark Twain in 1882. From the first line of the essay, Twain makes it clear that he has been asked to write something "suitable" for young people‚ÄĒspecifically, some sort of "advice" or instruction for younger readers. For Twain, this presents an opportunity to pass down some of the valuable lessons that he has learned thus far in life.

The reader, then, is expecting the goal of this essay to be a lesson in life for young people. Twain, however, uses humor and sarcasm to turn this expectation on its head. His first piece of advice, for instance, is to obey your parents but only when they are "present." In other words, make your parents think that you are everything they expect and hope because, in the long run, it will make your life much easier.

Similarly, on the issue of telling lies, the reader might expect Twain to preach about honesty. In contrast, he tells his readers to only tell a lie once they have mastered the "art" of not getting caught.

So, the goal of Twain's essay is to guide and instruct young people, but it is not in the manner older readers might expect. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

jeffdswan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write43 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

Mark Twain's Advice to Youth is an example of Juvenalian satire, a form of satire which is marked as being highly contemptuous and uses extreme exaggeration to make the target of the satire seem easily dismissed.

In speaking on the topics of obedience, respect, and lying, Twain is largely attempting to speak out against the learned behaviors that adults abide by in the name of cultural conformity. Specific examples of this can be seen in his choice of language, saying that children obey parents because "[parents] think they know better than you." It is important to note that he does not say that they do know better, but only that they think they do. Twain states that youth should not lie because they are not yet capable of lying "perfectly" and telling "a lie well told." Again we see that he is not expressing an absolute morality, but instead detailing the moral hypocrisy of the process of socialization.

It could be argued that the intent of Twain is to prepare youth for an adult life in which the very things he is, on the surface, speaking against are a common and important part of life, but it is far more likely that his purpose is instead to bring these qualities of adult life to the attention of adult readers.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial