Mark Twain: A Writer’s Life Critical Essays

Milton Meltzer


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

To Meltzer, Twain was not a simple, easily understood human being. Therefore, he makes no attempt in Mark Twain to gloss over his subject’s failings or to over-emphasize his positive characteristics. Instead, Meltzer gives his young readers a complicated person with whom they can readily identify.

This approach is especially evident when one examines the attention that the author gives to the young Twain, taking pains to dwell on his Hannibal years and on the development of his confidence and character that occurred at that crucial time. Like any teenager, Twain had his share of problems, but he is shown dealing well with challenges by taking on such tasks as working in a printshop in order to begin learning a trade. Twain’s love of pranks and occasional loafing are also illustrated, giving the account believability and a sense of humanity. Young readers, encountering a Twain who is of their own age, will be inspired.

Meltzer demonstrates the significance that other people can assume in one’s inner development, not only family members but also strangers that one happens to meet. In Twain’s case, such people were his mother, the printer who gave him his first job, and the Mississippi riverpilot Horace Bixby, without whom such Twain classics as Life on the Mississippi (1883) would never have been written. Mark Twain, like most successful young adult biographies, is a tale of a triumph gained only after real hardships. Although Twain had some breaks in his life, much of his literary success was attributable to hard work and the ability to make use of the opportunities that...

(The entire section is 665 words.)