The Chronicle of Young Satan by Mark Twain

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After a brief prologue, this unfinished story opens with young Theodor Fischer, Nikolaus Baumann, and Seppi Wohlmeyer playing on a hillside, where a handsome young stranger joins them. The stranger, who seems to read Theodor’s mind, impresses the boys with amazing tricks, including fashioning miniature people and animals out of clay and bringing them to life. He reveals that he is an angel named “Satan,” a nephew of the great Satan, but as he is explaining that angels cannot commit sin, the tiny clay people begin to quarrel, and he quietly crushes them. Shortly after he leaves, the impoverished village priest Father Peter arrives, looking for his lost wallet. He finds it stuffed with gold coins, which the boys correctly guess were put there by young Satan.

Several days later, when another village priest, Father Adolf, learns about Peter’s gold, he claims that Peter stole it from him and has him jailed, leaving Peter’s niece Marget in financial trouble. One day Theodor and Satan find Marget’s housekeeper, Ursula, comforting a stray kitten. Satan says it is a lucky cat that will provide for its owner. Afterward, silver coins regularly materialize in Ursula’s pockets. As Marget appears increasingly prosperous, Father Adolf encourages villagers to spy on her. However, when he attends a party that she gives, he is possessed by Satan, who causes him to perform incredible and unnatural stunts and then disappear, leaving the villagers to think that God has deserted them.

Satan—who publicly calls himself Philip Traum—charms the villagers but causes such confusion that Theodor begins to regard his coming as a disaster. However, one night Satan takes him on an instantaneous trip to China and explains his views on human beings, whom he regards as mere machines without free will. Among his predictions is the disheartening revelation that Nikolaus will soon drown while trying to rescue a girl.

Later, Satan explains to Theodor and Seppi the history of human progress, showing them a panorama stretching from Cain’s murder of Abel in the Garden of Eden through wars, murders, and massacres extending into the future. Afraid to ask Satan to predict his own future, Theodor instead asks for Seppi’s future and gets it in a multivolume book that he will read through the rest of his own life. Theodor later learns that Seppi has a similar book about his (Theodor’s) future. The boys often travel with Satan over great distances and times.

When Satan and...

(The entire section is 638 words.)