America's Own Mark Twain Critical Essays

Jeanette Eaton


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

With a number of prior biographies to her credit, Eaton applies her skill as a biographer to presenting succinctly the character and life of the United States’ pre-eminent humorist of the nineteenth century. Unlike some biographers who tend to glorify their subject, she presents Twain realistically through an objective recounting of the major episodes in his life and by an honest appraisal of his character. Eaton shows that “he cared deeply how his country was governed and how his fellow men fared,” but she also admits that even Twain knew “he had placed worldly success above his responsibility as an artist.” More than once, his greed and stubborn ambition, she writes, had brought ruin to the family; on the other hand, he was a man who loved deeply and let that love shine through his writings.

Because her book is intended for young readers, Eaton dedicates more than a fourth of the story to Twain’s boyhood activities. The first three chapters tell of exciting adventures that not only appeal to young boys in particular but also parallel events chronicled in the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn books. Description is held to a minimum, while episodic excitement is emphasized.

While Eaton’s focus is consistently on creating a story, it is a story that reveals character. The childhood section, for example, reveals Twain’s love for children, his understanding of that which drives them, and his acceptance of their normal, child-like preoccupation with play and mischievous fun....

(The entire section is 613 words.)