The Autobiography of Mark Twain

by Mark Twain

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While The Autobiography of Mark Twain provides a generally accurate description of Twain’s life, Neider warns that everything in the book might not be entirely true. Twain admitted that drawing upon a lifetime of recollections resulted in some inaccuracies or incomplete passages. For example, he writes “never mind the rest of it” in chapter 20, “I don’t believe these details are right but I don’t care a rap” in chapter 34, and “I think I am wrong” in chapter 44. These admissions, however, do not constitute major inaccuracies or lessen the literary value of this work.

Although Twain intended his autobiography for adult audiences, the book has appealed to young readers for many years. Also, the book complements Twain’s other works for children, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Twain’s writings about family and friends, his humorous stories, his descriptions of firsthand experiences with famous people, and his witticisms about life will continue to capture the interest of young readers. Twain’s autobiography also appeals to educators because it addresses the writing profession and portrays the United States as a developing nation. The interesting content, the easy reading level, and the short chapters contribute to young readers’ enjoyment of Twain’s autobiography.

Many readers also appreciate Twain’s honesty about his feelings and personal shortcomings. Examples include the death of Langdon (his twenty-two-month-old son for whose death Twain felt responsible), his bankruptcies, his bitter dislike of some individuals, and his poor judgment in negotiating book contracts and in financing inventions. Twain shows that his life, like many others, was a series of ups and downs.

Twain reveals in his autobiography that he considered himself lazy: He had never toiled, and he did not consider the writing profession to be demanding. Few readers would agree with Twain’s assertion because while he did not like physical work, he did produce many fine books, short stories, and essays. In fact, The Autobiography of Mark Twain clearly shows readers his high levels of energy, motivation, and determination. For example, Twain, virtually bankrupt at the age of fifty-eight when his publishing company failed, began a lecture tour around the world and successfully paid off all of his creditors.

The book focuses on many individuals whose lives crossed paths with Twain’s. While Twain wrote with some objectivity, his biases for and against certain individuals become evident. The reader learns of his love for his daughter, Susy, who at the age of thirteen began a biography of him. He expresses the opinion that his publishing partner, Charles Webster, “had immense pride, but he was short of other talents.” Twain also had obvious admiration for Bret Harte’s writing ability.

While Twain’s love for the United States can be detected throughout his autobiography, he also shows the nation’s problems and struggles. Young readers benefit from Twain’s realistic portrayal of slavery, as well as his description of the economic situation during the depression of the 1890’s. Such an accurate and personal appraisal of the country’s weaker moments provides an excellent historical examination and a personal perspective.

Young readers will enjoy Twain’s extraordinary ability to include humor and commentary in his works. Twain could write humorously and yet realistically and in such a manner that readers could see their human weaknesses. Twain describes his father’s failed real-estate venture and misguided hope that his family would be wealthy someday. He also examines the problems that result from telling a lie, comments on the practice of grown people indulging in practical jokes, and ponders the likelihood of finding an honest man in the United States. Twain includes the famous bear disguise episode, the time when a burglar set off the alarm in his house, and his own foolhardy expenditures on inventions that were doomed to fail. In addition to the humor that is inherent in most of Twain’s work, the author’s personal and philosophical beliefs interest young readers. Prospective writers will be encouraged to learn that authors can “pigeonhole” manuscripts when “the tank runs dry” and return to them later.

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