The Autobiography of Mark Twain Analysis
by Mark Twain

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Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In The Autobiography of Mark Twain, the famous American author Twain presents young readers with biographical information about his life, insight into how an author thinks and writes, and a description of a young and optimistic United States. The book uses anecdotic forms of recollections to document Twain’s life and shows the influence of a developing nation on this author as well as his influence on the nation. Editor Charles Neider’s 1959 revised edition of Twain’s autobiography contains seventy-nine chapters written by Twain during his earlier years and dictated during his later years. Although the first part of the book begins with his birth and the last tells of the end of his life, The Autobiography of Mark Twain presents events as Twain recollects them, rather than in a chronological format.

While Twain primarily focuses on his own life, he also deals with the lives of friends and relatives as he shows how they affected him and his work. In the preface and in several other places, Twain reminds readers that by speaking “from the grave” he is allowed to write freely when describing the private moments of his life. Twain, claiming his work to be free and frank, tells young readers about his friendships with famous American figures such as Ulysses S. Grant, Bret Harte, and William Dean Howells. Likewise, he discusses the members of his family: his mother and father, brother, wife and children, and even a nephew with whom he began a publishing business. Twain develops a feeling of closeness and rapport with the reader as he tells of the death of his son and his interactions with authors and publishers and as he shares his feelings about people whom he liked and did not like.

Twain provides interesting commentaries concerning the fairness of life, his theological beliefs, and his political opinions. For example, Twain believed that “people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue.” Near the end of the book, Twain, mixing humor and philosophy, comments on the human race and the way in which people hold on to superstitions.

In the revised edition of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Neider provides a fourteen-page introduction that gives vital information about Twain’s life, other editions of the autobiography, and the use of anecdotal recollections to tell a life story, as well as an explanation of the reasons for the inclusion or omission of certain material. Twain’s use of his recollections provides some highly interesting information and some that perceptive readers might justifiably question; Neider argues that the book as a whole is an entertaining autobiography. The revised edition also contains fourteen pages of illustrations of Twain, his family, and his friends. Other illustrations reveal two pages from one of Twain’s manuscripts that show corrections and revisions in his own handwriting.

Historical Context

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

One of the reasons The Autobiography of Mark Twain continues to engage readers is its detailed, first-person account of the historical events of the time. Twain lived during formative years in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when America was experiencing growing pains and defining its national identity.

It is no surprise that Twain and his brother Orion were able to find work in the newspaper industry, which experienced rapid growth in the nineteenth century. This growth was due to a number of developments, including the increased use of advertising to subsidize printing costs, an increase in the number of news correspondents using the telegraph to wire in the latest national news, and the establishment of the Associated Press. The importance of newspapers and other forms of rapid communication increased with the advent of the Civil War, when existing newspapers on both sides of the conflict promoted their cause in print.

The Civil War was the single, bloodiest fight that...

(The entire section is 2,304 words.)