America's Own Mark Twain Analysis
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 story of his prospecting endeavors reveals Twain’s early obsession with making a vast fortune, as well as his propensity to engage in business ventures without proper investigation. The narrative of his travels and subsequent lectures demonstrates his keen ability to observe and capture with wit and unusual insight the essence of places and people. Eaton shows Twain’s thirst for knowledge about the places that he toured, causing him to read voraciously before and during his visits. She observes that Twain was offended by the poverty of the Italian populace in contrast to the magnificence of that country’s great cathedrals, by the plight of the citizens of Pompeii, by the absurd behavior of tourists, by the dreadful conditions of Arabs, and by the liberties that Jerusalem churchmen took with history and geography. Furthermore, Twain’s penchant for the humorous—even the burlesque—finds expression in Eaton’s account of his years as a reporter and in her brief...
(The entire section is 613 words.)