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

The goal of Mark Twain's "Advice to Youth" is to subvert the genre of the graduation speech to expose the hypocrisy of the older generation. He mocks the platitudes and inherent dishonesty of graduation speeches by writing one that delivers the truth. He hopes, through this, to wake people up to how they really behave.

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In his “Advice to Youth,” Mark Twain is poking fun at the solemnity and high moral seriousness of traditional graduation day speeches. As someone with an acute awareness of the way that language can be distorted for the purposes of self-interest, Twain uses his essay to expose the hypocrisy that often lurks behind high-flown rhetoric.

Twain evidently wants young graduates to share his suspicion towards the bromides and platitudes that those in positions of authority so often hand down to young people. Although the way in which Twain goes about achieving this objective—through sarcasm, hyperbole, and tongue-in-cheek humor—may be light-hearted, there's a serious message behind all the badinage. Throughout his long life, Twain has learned a thing or two about authority figures and would dearly love for the younger generation to receive the benefit of his wisdom.

In preparing his readers for the rigors of adult life, Twain believes that it is essential to give them some cold, unvarnished truth about what the real world is really like. To this end, he gives the impression that lying is an important skill to have if one is to get ahead in life. Once again, one can see an important lesson—how to deal with life and all its many challenges—delivered with wry humor, pretty much an epitome of Twain's entire approach in “Advice to Youth.”

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 9, 2021
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Mark Twain's satiric graduation speech mocks the graduation-speech genre that most often feeds young people lies and platitudes. He does this with the moral goal of mocking and shocking people into awareness of their own hypocrisy.

In this speech, the speaker advises hypocrisy. For example, he states,

Always obey your parents, when they are present.

He also advises his audience to learn the "graceful and beautiful" art of lying early:

An awkward, feeble, leaky lie is a thing which you ought to make it your unceasing study to avoid.

Twain uses hyperbole or exaggeration, a hallmark of satire, to make us laugh and to point out the failings of his society. For example, he uses it not only to attack hypocrisy but also to target the violence American life. He advises young graduates who have been offended by someone merely to hit them over the head with a brick rather than using dynamite. He also advises that they be careful with guns.

Tongue in cheek, Twain also slips self-promotion into his speech when he recommends his own book The Innocent Abroad in a short list of pious sermons he advises reading. Not only does he plug himself, he points to a book of his that further dissects human nature. Finally, Twain ends with these words:

Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else's.

This statement shows that Twain is well aware of how adults really behave under the pieties they mouth to the young. He hopes that if adults can see themselves in this mirror, they might want to change.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 4, 2021
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"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—specifically, 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. 

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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.

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