what is mark twain's satire of small town life in huckleberry finn

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stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Satire can be defined as

the use of humor and wit with a critical attitude, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule for exposing or denouncing the frailties and faults of mankind’s activities and institutions.

One of the passages in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which Twain uses satire in his description of small town life is the encounter between the townsfolk and Colonel Sherburn after the shooting of old Boggs. There is no question that Sherburn did murder Boggs, who was drunk and boisterous earlier in the day but was quiet and unarmed when he was shot.

The first reaction after the shooting is curiosity. Everyone in town wanted to see Boggs's dead body, lying on the drug store floor. This was not paying respects to the deceased; this was morbid curiosity.

The whole town was there, squirming and scrounging and pushing and shoving to get at the window and have a look...Everybody that seen the shooting was telling how it happened

Eventually, someone suggests that "Sherburn ought to be lynched." With the bravery that comes from being in a crowd, the people agree with this plan and head for his house, clothesline in hand. The excitement and bravery levels were high in the heat of the moment.

everything had to clear the way or get run over and tromped to mush...Some sung out 'Tear down the fence! tear down the fence!' Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes,

However, when Sherburn emerges and denounces the mob as "a mob without any man at the head of it", a group of leaderless, spineless cowards who wouldn't kill anyone in daylight or unmasked, the movement vanishes in a moment.

The crowd washed back sudden, and then broke all apart and went tearing off every which way...I could a staid, if I'd a wanted to, but I didn't want to.

Twain is satirizing the over-abundance of talk that is not backed up by action in many small towns.

Read the study guide:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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