Mark Twain Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Mark Twain’s development of the theme of American innocents abroad differ from that of Henry James?

In what respects is Life on the Mississippi a preparation for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

What makes Adventures of Huckleberry Finn much more than a “spin-off” of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

How legitimate are the concerns that have led certain school systems and libraries to ban or exclude Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

What lessons has Huck learned by the end of his adventures?

How do you account for the growing pessimism in Twain’s later books?

Consider Twain as a practitioner of “the art that conceals art.”

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

As a professional writer who felt the need for a large income, Mark Twain published more than thirty books and left many uncollected pieces and manuscripts. He tried every genre, including drama, and even wrote some poetry that is seldom read. His royalties came mostly from books sold door to door, especially five travel volumes. For more than forty years, he occasionally sold material, usually humorous sketches, to magazines and newspapers. He also composed philosophical dialogues, moral fables, and maxims, as well as essays on a range of subjects which were weighted more toward the social and cultural than the belletristic but which were nevertheless often controversial. Posterity prefers his two famous novels about boyhood along the banks of the Mississippi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), although Twain also tried historical fiction, the detective story, and quasi-scientific fantasy.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Certainly one of the United States’ most beloved and most frequently quoted writers, Mark Twain earned that honor by creating an original and nearly inimitable style that is thoroughly American. Although Twain tried nearly every genre from historical fiction to poetry to quasi-scientific fantasy, his novels about boyhood on the Mississippi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are the works that permanently wove Twain’s celebrity status into the fabric of American culture. During his own lifetime, Twain received numerous honors including an M.A., soon followed by an LL.D., from Yale University. The University of Missouri granted him another doctorate in 1902. His proudest moment, however, was in 1907, when the University of Oxford awarded him an honorary LL.D. He was so proud of his scarlet doctor’s gown that he wore it to his daughter’s wedding.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111201282-Twain.jpg Mark Twain Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to his novels, Mark Twain wrote a great deal of short fiction, which can be divided, although often only arbitrarily, into short stories, tales, and humorous sketches. One of the best examples of his short stories is “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” and one of the best examples of his humorous sketches is the jumping frog story. Somewhere between the story and the sketch are tales such as “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.”

Twain also wrote speeches and essays, both humorous and critical. Representative of his best satiric essays, which range from the very funny to the very sober, are “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” and “To the Person Sitting in Darkness.” The first of these is a hilarious broadside against Cooper’s style and invention in which Twain is obviously enjoying himself while at the same time continuing his ongoing war against the romanticizing of the past. “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” considered by some to be his finest piece of invective, is his attack on what he saw as the exploitation of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War by, in his words, “The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust.”

Early in his career, Twain wrote the travel sketches and impressions The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), and A Tramp Abroad (1880), and later, Following the Equator (1897). Two of his most important books are autobiographical, Life on the Mississippi (1883) and Mark Twain’s Autobiography, published in various editions in 1924.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The coincidental appearance of Halley’s comet in the years of Mark Twain’s birth and death, 1835 and 1910, has been much remarked. A historical event, however, in contrast to the cosmic one, occurring very near the midpoint of his life, provides a better symbol for his career and his achievement than does the mysterious, fiery comet. In 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, a golden spike was driven to complete the first North American transcontinental railroad. The subsequent settling of the great midwestern center of the continent and the resulting transformation of a frontier society into a civilized one, a process people thought would take hundreds of years, was to be effected in several decades. Twain’s life spanned the two Americas, the frontier America that produced so much of the national mythology and the emerging urban, industrial giant of the twentieth century. At the heart of Twain’s achievement is his creation of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who embody that mythic America, midway between the wilderness and the modern super-state.

Tom and Huck, two of the nation’s most enduring characters, give particular focus to Twain’s turbulent, sprawling, complex career as journalist, humorist, entrepreneur, and novelist. The focus is dramatic because the two characters have made their way into the popular imagination with the abiding vitality of legend or folklore. They have been kept before generations of Americans in motion pictures, television, cartoons, and other popular art forms as well as in their original form in the novels. The focus is also symbolic because of the fundamental dualism that the two characters can be seen to represent on the personal, the literary, and the cultural planes.

On the personal plane, Tom and Huck represent aspirations so fundamental to Twain’s life as to make them seem rather the two halves of his psyche. Like good and bad angels, they have been taken to represent the contending desires in his life: a strong desire for the security and status of material success on one hand set against the deeply ingrained desire for freedom from conventional social and moral restraints on the other. It has been conjectured that steamboat piloting was perhaps the most satisfying of Twain’s occupations because it offered him high degrees of both respectability and freedom. Although the character of Tom, the symbol of perennial boyhood, can be easily overburdened by this perspective, there is in him the clear outline of the successful, settled, influential man-of-affairs-to-be. If Tom had grown up, he—like Twain himself—might well have made and lost a fortune in the publishing business and through investments in the Paige typesetter. He almost certainly would have been a successful professional or businessman. He would most likely have traveled abroad and would have been eager to associate with nobility at every opportunity. It is relatively easy to imagine Tom growing up. It is instructive to realize that it is almost impossible to imagine Huck’s doing so.

On the literary plane, the two may also be seen as representing contending forces, those of the two principal literary schools of the period, the Romantic and the realistic. Surely, Twain’s pervasive attacks on Romantic literature are somewhat compulsive, reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s preoccupation with the Puritans. Both protest too much. Twain is one of America’s foremost Romantics, even if he did see himself as a realist and even if he did engage much of his time in puncturing the sentimental balloons of the disciples of Sir Walter Scott, Cooper, and the graveyard poets. He was both Romantic and realist, and Tom and Huck emerge almost allegorically as symbols of the two major literary schools of the late nineteenth century.

Tom as the embodiment of socially conforming respectability and as a disciple of Romantic literature contrasts illustratively with Huck as the embodiment of the naturally free spirit, who is “realistic” in part because of his adolescent honesty about such things as art, royalty, and the efficacy of prayer. It is the symbolic dualism on the historical plane, however, that brings into sharpest focus the nature of Twain’s central and most enduring achievement. On the historical plane, his two central characters reflect most clearly Twain’s principal legacy to posterity: the embodiment in fiction of that moment in time, a moment both real and imaginary, given some historical particularity by the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point in 1869, when America was poised between the wilderness and the modern, technological state. In this context, Tom represents the settlements that were to become the towns and cities of the new century, and Huck represents the human spirit, freer, at least in the imagination, in the wilderness out of which the settlements were springing. At the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain sends Huck on that impossible mission that has been central to the American experience for centuries, when he has him decide to “light out for the territory” before Aunt Sally can “adopt” and “civilize” him.

Twain the humorist and satirist, the silver-mining and typesetting entrepreneur, the journalist, the family man, the anguished, skeptical seeker after religious faith—all must be taken into consideration in accounts of the nature of his achievements. Without Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, he would have made his mark as a man of his time, a man of various and rich talents. Most likely, his reputation would rest today largely on his talents as a humorist and satirist, and that reputation still figures largely in assessments of his overall achievement. With Tom and Huck, however, his achievement is given the depth and dramatic focus of a central contribution to the national mythology. Huck’s “voice” is frequently compared to the voice of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (1855). Such comparisons rest in part on rhetorical similarities between the two voices, similarities in what has been called the “vernacular mode.” More significantly, they derive from the similarities of the achievements of the poet and the novelist in the establishing of historically and culturally distinctive American “voices” in poetry and fiction. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn loom large on the nineteenth century literary horizon. They stand, along with James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook, Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, and Whitman’s persona in “Song of Myself,” as the principal characters of the emerging national literature. Twain’s contribution to that body of literature is at the deepest center of his achievement as a major American writer.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Mark Twain is best known as the author of the quintessentially American novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), the work from which, in Ernest Hemingway’s judgment, all modern American writing derives and in which neither mystery nor detection plays any significant role. Of the novel’s two murders, one, Pap Finn’s, is quickly disposed of in the final page and the other, Huck’s feigning his own death, is, for all the brilliance of the plan and the psychological resonance of the symbolic act of self-destruction, little more than the means by which Twain keeps his plot moving.

Because Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is in many ways not only Twain’s finest work but also his most representative, it may appear that he holds little claim to a place in the history of mystery and detective fiction. Twain, however, demonstrated a deep interest in these particular literary forms over the course of his entire career. From the inquest in “Petrified Man” to his purest and most complete venture into the field, Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), he adapted the conventions of these literary subgenres to his own purposes, aesthetic, and financial needs. His forays into mystery and detective fiction may therefore best be classified according to form and function: satirizing the forms themselves and certain social conditions, capitalizing on already popular (and therefore potentially profitable) literary formulas, and finding an appropriate vehicle for those melodramatic climaxes of which he was perhaps overfond. Not surprisingly for a writer who generally wrote without any plan in mind and whose episodic works often appear innocent of both plot and structure, the formal constraints of detective and mystery writing often proved too confining for Twain. However, for a writer obsessed with the question of mistaken identity, mystery and detective fiction held a certain attraction. Indeed, mistaken identity plays a central role in his posthumously published short story A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage (2001), which might be best seen as a parody of detective fiction.

To Build a Fire

Jack London was born in San Francisco, California, on January 12, 1876. His father deserted his family when London was still a child, and he was raised by his mother and stepfather in Oakland, CA. At the age of 14, London left school for a life on the road. For five years, he worked as a seaman, rode in freight trains along the West Coast, and became an avid member of the Socialist Party. At 19, though, he dedicated himself to self-education in public libraries and gained admission to the University of California-Berkeley as a special student. During this time, he began to write short stories and political essays.

In 1901, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oakland. Following the defeat, he shifted his attention to writing longer works, including The Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea-Wolf (1904), White Fang (1906), and Burning Daylight (1910). London became one of his generation's most prolific writers, exploring the cultures and geographies of the Yukon, California, the South Pacific, and England. He died on his ranch of kidney disease on November 22, 1916.

  • Fortunato – Poe's choice for the antagonist's name in this story indicates that he intended it to be ironic, and irony is a dominant element in the story: The victim is certainly not fortunate, nor does his money, his “fortune,” assist him in any way. In addition, note the irony of the words on the Montresor's coat of arms, Fortunato's claim that a cough will not kill him, and Montresor's being a different kind of “mason” than Fortunato.
  • impunity – with no regard; exemption
  • unredressed – unavenged
  • redresser – an avenger
  • immolation – death by burning
  • virtuoso – a person skilled or knowledgeable in a specific subject
  • motley – a clown or jester's costume
  • surmounted – rested on top of
  • “a pipe of what passes for Amontillado” – A pipe is a barrel that holds a large amount of wine or liquor (approximately 125 gallons). Amontillado is a rare type of wine similar to sherry and is imported from Spain. Montresor, the narrator, is setting the trap by appealing to Fortunato's knowledge of wine, his ego, the scarcity of the Amontillado, and the large amount of wine.
  • roquelaire – [French] a knee-length coat
  • absconded – left quickly; disappeared
  • Montresor – [French; mon trésor] my treasure
  • gait – a manner of walking
  • rheum – a thick watery discharge from the eyes
  • draught – a drink
  • Medoc – a type of wine
  • leer – a sideways glance; sneer
  • repose – to rest
  • azure – the color blue
  • rampant – out of control, unchecked
  • “Nemo me impune lacessit” – [Latin] “No one attacks me with impunity.”
  • puncheons – large casks
  • catacombs – underground burial places
  • flagon – a glass bottle for holding wine before serving it
  • De Grâve – a type of French wine
  • gesticulation – a gesture made while speaking
  • roquelaire – a knee-length cloak
  • promiscuously – in a disordered way; casually
  • circumscribing – encircling; constricting
  • niche – a crevice, cranny; a recessed area in a wall (usually for statues or urns)
  • fettered – chained
  • nitre – potassium nitrate, a compound that causes oxidation; an ingredient in gunpowder
  • ejaculated – exclaimed
  • flambeaux – torches
  • rapier – a type of small sword
  • palazzo – a mansion
  • aperture – an opening
  • “I forced the last stone. . .plastered it up.” – A cask is a large barrel used to store alcohol. On one end of the cask is a valve where the tap would be placed. The valve is called a keystone. A keystone is also the top, inter-locking stone in a vault or tomb. Poe may be creating an extended metaphor: The vault may represent the cask, and Fortunato, the Amontillado and also Montresor's treasure, which he seals in the vault forever.
  • “In pace requiescat” – [Latin] “Rest in peace.”

Désirée's Baby

A popular writer of Creole life in Louisiana, Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin (1851 – 1904) is remembered today primarily for her ground-breaking feminist novel, The Awakening. She was reared and educated in St. Louis, Missouri. Chopin had a mixed background—an Irish father and French Creole mother. Chopin was a witty, intelligent debutante who married, traveled to Europe, and then settled in New Orleans. Her father's death, her close relationship with her family, and a habit of avid reading all contributed to her later writing.

Although actively involved in the social life of the city during her years there, she was still able to give birth to and raise six children. Chopin began to write as a result of a series of unfortunate personal events: the death of her husband, escalating debts, the death of her mother, and a nervous breakdown. By the late 1880s, however, she was contributing to popular periodicals, and in the 1890s, published two collections of short stories, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. Her major work, The Awakening, unleashed a torrent of criticism when it was originally published, because of its theme and its portrayal of a woman who chooses to be independent of her husband.

Chopin died in 1904 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

  • garrulous – talkative; speaking with more words than needed
  • personage – an important person
  • conjectured – reached a conclusion by guessing
  • countenance – the face, usually related to facial expression
  • interminable – endless
  • transcendent – superior in quality
  • finesse – a skill or ability
  • big flume – a channel or waterway to transport logs; the miners may have used it to sift gold from sediment.
  • “you'd find him flush, or you'd find him busted” – He would be the winner with money in his pocket or the loser without any money at all.
  • best exhorter – from exhortation, meaning to encourage or urge someone; the best preacher
  • Providence – relating to God's plan for a person's life
  • distemper – a fatal animal disease; no animal could have this and race.
  • consumption – tuberculosis, a lung disorder; a horse would not be able to run with this disease, which would most likely have been fatal.
  • cipher – writing
  • fo'castle of a steamboat – a raised part at the front of a ship
  • Andrew Jackson – (1767 – 1845), an early President of the United States, who was the first man to hold the office not to have come from an aristocratic background
  • Dan'l Webster – (1782 – 1852), a famous Senator and orator in the United States Senate; he was known for his efforts to avert the Civil War, but was criticized for it. Twain has used the same technique as he did with “Andrew Jackson.” This is not to ridicule the famous men, but to gently poke fun at the tendency of people to want to give their pets strong qualities by naming them after famous people.
  • red – money; a “red cent.”
  • ary – some
  • quail-shot – ammunition consisting of small pellets
  • hysted – raised
  • vagabond – a tramp, vagrant

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born in Hannibal, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He had two brothers and a sister. A slave named Jenny worked for the family, and it is thought that her storytelling had a strong influence on the young Twain. He traveled extensively, working in various jobs, including a stint on a newspaper and one as a riverboat pilot. He supposedly took his pseudonym from the way a river's depth was measured: a piece of line with knots at three-foot intervals was dropped into the river, and when the rope hit bottom, the depth was called out to the pilot. Therefore, “Mark Twain” or “two knots” literally means “six feet.”

In 1864, Twain left for San Francisco where he worked as a reporter. After a trip to Hawaii for The Sacramento Union, he began giving lectures. Later, in 1869, he wrote The Innocents Abroad based on his experiences traveling in France and Italy. The book was immensely popular, and Twain's sharp, humorous barbs set him apart from most other writers of the time.

Twain married Olivia Langdon in 1870, and between 1876 and 1884, he wrote Tom Sawyer, The Prince and The Pauper, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain also became a very popular lecturer, drawing huge crowds to hear him read his own works.

Family tragedies, including the death of his beloved daughter, and a series of bad financial investments left him bitter and depressed in his old age. His later writings, most of which were published posthumously, reflect his disappointment at what he saw were grave weaknesses and flaws in human nature.

Mark Twain died in 1910; his death, like his birth, coincided with the appearance of Halley's Comet.

Today, he is thought of as both a fine humorist with an uncanny ear for speech and the first truly modern American novelist, adept at pointing out hypocrisy and the inconsistencies in human nature.

  • “One dollar. . .in pennies.” – Note that it is impossible for this amount to be correct mathematically. Della cannot have $1.87 with only .60 in pennies. No one has offered any credible explanation as to why O. Henry wrote it this way.
  • imputation – an accusation, charge
  • parsimony – thriftiness, frugality
  • instigates – incites, urges on
  • “sobs, sniffles, and smiles” – an example of alliteration
  • predominating – prevalent; having more power
  • “$8 per week” – This would have been the rental cost of an apartment in which a lower middle class New York City couple might live.
  • mendicancy – poverty
  • vestibule – an entryway
  • appertaining – relating to
  • longitudinal – in vertical measurements
  • depreciate – to devalue, cheapen
  • Queen of Sheba; King Solomon – In the Old Testament, the wealthy Queen of Sheba, who ruled an ancient kingdom in the region of modern-day Ethiopia, visited the equally wealthy King Solomon of Israel in order to test his wisdom. When the King answered her questions, she was so impressed with his wisdom that she showered him with gold and jewels. He, in turn, granted her everything she desired.
  • fob – a chain connected to a pocket watch
  • meretricious – showy, flashy
  • Coney Island – an amusement park and beach resort in Brooklyn, New York. Still in operation today, Coney Island was very popular during the early part of the twentieth century, especially among the middle class.
  • laboriously – with much effort
  • “The magi brought valuable gifts. . .” – The magi (the “Three Wise Men” in the Bible) paid homage to the baby Jesus by bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • assertion – an statement, claim
  • ecstatic – overjoyed, elated
  • coveted – desired, wanted
  • ardent – eager, passionate
  • “. . .let it be said. . .were the wisest.” – This statement reveals the theme of the story, which relates to the importance of unselfish love having no boundaries. The gifts that James and Della give to one another end up having no useful function or material value, but they are, in fact, the most valuable gifts for either of them to have given. This is evident because they are given purely through love for another person and self-sacrifice.

Young Goodman Brown

Considered one of the greatest American writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864), is a direct product of his New England background. His father was a sea captain, who died when the boy was only four. Reared in a reclusive setting, Hawthorne became an avid reader, as recorded by the huge number of books he borrowed from the local lending library in Salem, Massachusetts. His uncle sent him to Bowdoin College, where Hawthorne became good friends with the future president, Franklin Pierce, and future poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hawthorne wrote, but destroyed most of his early writings; however, by the time he was 33, his writing style and content had matured. Critics credit Hawthorne with making the short story acceptable literature in America, especially after his Twice Told Tales was published in 1837.

Haunted by his Puritan past, including a grandfather who was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials, Hawthorne wrote many of his novels and short stories, including The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and “Young Goodman Brown” with deeply Puritan backgrounds. His contributions to American literature include his meticulous style, intriguing themes, complex symbolism, and psychological insights into human nature.

  • dingy – a small boat


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Briden, Earl F. “Twainian Pedagogy and the No-Account Lessons of ‘Hadleyburg.’” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Spring, 1991): 125-234. Argues that within the context of Twain’s skepticism about man’s capacity for moral education “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” is not a story about a town’s redemptive lessons of sin but rather an exposé about humanity’s inability to learn morality from either theory or practice, abstract principle or moral pedagogy.

Camfield, Gregg. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Collection of essays, including several by other scholars, on diverse aspects of Twain’s life and writing, with encyclopedia reference features. Includes a three-page entry on detective stories. Indexed.

Emerson, Everett. Mark Twain: A Literary Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Complete revision of Emerson’s The Authentic Mark Twain (1984), this masterful study traces the development of Twain’s writing against the events in his life and provides illuminating discussions of many individual works, including the mystery and detective stories discussed here. Indexed.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. A broad survey of Mark Twain’s influence on modern culture, including the many writers who have acknowledged their indebtedness to him; discusses Twain’s use of Hannibal, Missouri, in his writings; charts his transformation from a southern racist to a committed antiracist.

Fulton, Joe B. Mark Twain in the Margins: The Quarry Farm Marginalia and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Alabama, 2000. An examination of the marginalia that Fulton finds revealing of the development of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee.

Horn, Jason Gary. Mark Twain: A Descriptive Guide to Biographical Sources. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1999. Richly annotated bibliography of nearly three hundred books and other sources on Mark Twain, including many works of criticism.

Kaplan, Justin. Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966. Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is a superior general work on Twain’s life after 1861.

Lauber, John. The Inventions of Mark Twain. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990. Very well-written and often humorous, this biography reveals Twain as an extremely complex, self-contradictory individual. Includes an annotated bibliography.

Lauber, John. The Making of Mark Twain: A Biography. New York: American Heritage Press, 1985.

LeMaster, J. R., and James D. Wilson, eds. The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993. Comprehensive reference work broadly similar in organization to Rasmussen’s Critical Companion to Mark Twain, differing in devoting most of its space to literary analysis. Includes a long entry by Don L. F. Nilsen on detective fiction.

Leonard, James. S., ed. Making Mark Twain Work in the Classroom. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999. Collection of essays by leading Twain scholars designed for students and teachers. Special attention is given to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Joan of Arc, Innocents Abroad, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Messent, Peter B. Mark Twain. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. A standard introduction to Twain’s life and works. Provides bibliographical references and an index.

Messent, Peter B. The Short Works of Mark Twain: A Critical Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Detailed exploration of Twain’s shorter works that takes the innovative approach of examining how Twain planned the individual collections in which they were first published in book form.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography. 3 vols. 1912. Reprint. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997. Often reprinted, this immense study by Twain’s authorized biographer and editor remains the fullest study of Twain’s life and benefits from Paine’s close personal acquaintance with Twain and his access to sources that no longer exist.

Powers, Ron. Mark Twain: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2005. A massive, engrossing biography which examines not only Twain’s life and work, but also his context. Includes bibliography and index.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Bloom’s How to Write About Mark Twain. New York: Chelsea House, 2008. Practical guide to writing student essays on Mark Twain, with numerous general and specific suggestions on his major novels. Contains a general introduction to writing on Mark Twain and chapters on ten individual works, including Pudd’n head Wilson. Each chapter has a lengthy bibliography.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Critical Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Facts On File, 2007. Revised and much expanded edition of Mark Twain A to Z (1995), which covered virtually every character, theme, place, and biographical fact relating to Mark Twain and contained the most complete chronology ever compiled. Among new features in this retitled edition are lengthy critical essays on Twain’s major works, including all the mystery and detective stories discussed here; an extensive, annotated bibliography; and a glossary of unusual words in Mark Twain’s writings. Indexed.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A-Z. New York: Facts on File, 1995. The most impressive reference tool available. Virtually every character, theme, place, and biographical fact can be researched in this compendious volume. Contains the most complete chronology ever compiled.

Sanborn, Margaret. Mark Twain: The Bachelor Years. New York: Doubleday, 1990. This biography covers the adventure-filled years from the author’s boyhood to marriage in 1870 at age thirty-four. Based on extensive research into letters written to Twain’s mother, sister, brothers, and close friends. Includes many letters not referenced by Twain’s official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. Also includes valuable insights gained from 184 letters written between 1868 and 1870, while courting Olivia Langdon, whom Twain eventually married.

Sloane, David E. E. Student Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Greenwood Press, 2001. Essays on aspects of Twain’s life, with special chapters on individual books.

Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. A collection of essays with an introduction by Smith. Among the contributors is W. H. Auden. A chronology of important dates in the author’s life is also included.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. University of California, 2001. The complete original manuscript, including more than six hundred excised pages.

Twain, Mark. Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews. Edited by Gary Scharnhorst. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006. This volume is comprised of interviews with Mark Twain dating from 1871 to 1910, presented in chronological order. The interviews paint a vivid picture of Twain, bringing to life his speech patterns and idiosyncracies, his likes and dislikes, and his philosophies on life and writing. Editor Gary Scharnhorst makes the book easily accessible to those unfamiliar with Twain by providing annotations to clarify the historical and biographical references.

Twain, Mark. The Stolen White Elephant, and Other Detective Stories, edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Omnibus volume containing facsimile reprints of the first American editions of The Stolen White Elephant, and Other Stories (1882), Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), and A Double-Barrelled Detective Story (1902). Part of the twenty-nine-volume Oxford Mark Twain edition, this volume also includes a new introduction by mystery writer Walter Mosley and an analytical afterword by scholar Lillian S. Robinson.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Mark Twain: The Man and His Work. 3d ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. A thorough revision of the 1935 work in which Wagenknecht considers the vast historical and critical study conducted between 1935 and 1960. He has modified many of his original ideas, most notably, that Mark Twain was “The Divine Amateur.” The original chapter with that title has been rewritten and renamed “The Man of Letters.”

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Dayton Duncan. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. A heavily illustrated companion to the PBS television documentary. More than a picture book, however, this volume provides ample biographical information that is well researched and thoughtfully presented.

Wieck, Carl F. Refiguring “Huckleberry Finn.”Georgia, 2000. A novel approach to the meaning and influence of Twain’s best-known work; Wieck concentrates on certain key words to decipher the text.

Wilson, James D. A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Mark Twain. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Detailed summaries and analyses of sixty-five stories, including several that appear within Twain’s travel books.

Wonham, Henry B. Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Discusses how Twain used the tall-tale conventions of interpretive play, dramatic encounters, and the folk community. Focuses on the relationship between storyteller and audience in Twain’s fiction.

The Gift of the Magi

William Sidney Porter (1862-1910), popularly known as O. Henry, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. He did not receive a formal education and, at twenty years of age, moved to Texas, where he worked on a sheep ranch.

In 1887, he married Athol Estes Roach, supposedly the model for Della in “The Gift of the Magi”, O. Henry's most popular story; they had two children, a daughter and a son. A year later, he obtained a job at a bank, but was accused of embezzlement and served time in Ohio Penitentiary. It was this imprisonment, however, that led directly to O. Henry's career as a writer; in 1902, after three years in prison, he settled in New York with his new name and nearly a dozen short stories ready to be published. The derivation of his pseudonym is unclear: It may be related to a family cat, the name of the prison warden, or a name in a book he read in jail.

For three years, O. Henry wrote short stories every week for the World, a New York newspaper. Cabbages and Kings, his first collection of short stories, was published in 1904. These stories became extremely popular, and O. Henry's next book, The Four Million, cemented his reputation as a vivid portrayer of life in New York City. However, his personal life was destroyed by a failed marriage, bad financial dealings, and heavy drinking.

O. Henry died of complications due to alcoholism, on June 5, 1910.

  • Sabbath lull – Sundays were days of rest, not work
  • their impropriety was professional – The women were prostitutes, and their behavior was suitable and businesslike; therefore, the town felt justified in exiling them.
  • expatriated – a person forced to leave his or her home
  • cavalcade – a group of people
  • Parthian volley of expletives – an allusion to the ancient country of Parthia, near Iran, which was known for archers who pretended to retreat while continuing to shoot; Uncle Billy's curses are designed to insult Poker Flat, but he must leave, regardless.
  • coquetry – flirtatiousness
  • malevolence – ill-will; a desire for bad things to happen to others
  • Sierras – a high rugged range of mountains in the West
  • precipitous – very steep
  • precipice – the edge of a cliff
  • curtly – rudely and quickly
  • “throwing up their hand before the game was played out” – Oakhurst makes a reference to poker; it involves a person quitting or throwing in cards before the game was finished.
  • prescience – knowledge of an event before it occurs
  • maudlin – emotionally or overly sentimental
  • recumbent – lying down
  • equanimity – composure; patience, even temper
  • ominous – threatening
  • guileless – without deceit
  • Temperance House – a place that would refrain from serving liquor
  • amiable – friendly
  • sylvan – relating to nature or the countryside
  • celestial guardians – angels watching over them
  • sotto voce – [Italian] spoken in an extremely soft voice
  • extemporized – improvised
  • professional tint – rouge; woman in the 1850s did not generally wear make up, and color showing through the Duchess' rouge would indicate that she is blushing.
  • cached – hidden
  • beguiled – misled
  • ostentatiously – showily; to gain attention
  • camp-meeting hymn – a camp meeting was a popular time for religious revivals in the 1800s
  • vociferation – loudness of voice
  • Covenanter's – an allusion to Scottish Protestants of the 1600s
  • sententiously – like a proverb or a truth that is simply stated
  • commiseration – sympathy
  • malediction – a curse
  • vituperative – abusive
  • Mr. Pope's – a reference to Alexander Pope (1680 – 1744), a British writer who translated the Iliad into English poetry
  • Iliad – the epic work of the siege of Troy by the Greek poet Homer
  • vernacular – common language
  • Homeric demigods – the mythological gods that Homer wrote about
  • Trojan bully and wily Greek – another reference to Homer's writing; Trojans were citizens of Troy, but the Greeks, who tricked their enemies with the famous Trojan horse, were crafty and sly.
  • son of Peleus – a reference to Achilles
  • Ash-heels – Tom Simson mispronounces Achilles' name.
  • swift-footed Achilles – the only vulnerable part of Achilles was the heel of his foot
  • Homer – the Greek poet of the eighth century who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey
  • querulous – full of complaints
  • bones – the castanets that Tom Simson used previously
  • like white-winged birds – referring to doves, which are symbols of purity, virtue, and peace
  • gulch – a narrow and deep river valley
  • Derringer – a small, but powerful handgun
  • “beneath the snow. . .outcasts of Poker Flat.” – Note how the perception of Oakhurst's character has changed because of his suicide.


Known today primarily because of his strong influence on American writers who followed him, Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) is mostly remembered for his short stories and his popular novel Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, but lived much of his adult life in Chicago, which influenced his writing, both stylistically and thematically.

He began writing after recovering from a mental breakdown; he soon met and associated with writers like Carl Sandburg and Theodore Dreiser. Anderson published his first novel in 1916. His greatest writing success, however, came with the publication of his novel Winesburg, Ohio, in 1919, which depicts small-town life through several short stories about people who are lonely, isolated individuals.

Anderson's writings lost their popularity toward the end of his life, although he did have a strong influence on writers such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. In the 1970s, a revival of interest in his works began.

Sherwood Anderson died in 1941 from internal bleeding.

  • Winesburg, Ohio – Anderson used his hometown of Clyde, Ohio, as the basis for his writing.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

Francis Bret Harte (1836 – 1902) was one of the first of many mid-to late-nineteenth century American writers who specialized in stories of local color. His early education was sparse and irregular. At 18, he traveled from his birthplace, Albany, New York, to the wilds of San Francisco, with his widowed mother. Soon, he met the seekers of fortune who had come West after the discovery of gold in California.

Harte worked in various jobs, but eventually settled on popular magazine work with the The Californian and The Overland Monthly. His initial fame came from the publishing of “The Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” in the 1860s; within a short time, Harte had become the highest paid author in the country and was a contributor to numerous literary and popular magazines. For the first time in American literature, characters from the outskirts of life—drunkards, gamblers, prostitutes, miners—were depicted with sympathy, humor, and humanity. He also met and championed the writing of a young Mark Twain, but later in life, he ridiculed Twain's writing.

Harte moved back east, but eventually, after further literary successes eluded him, he went to Europe where he lived for 30 years. Bret Harte died of lung cancer in 1902.

  • barbarously – in an uncivilized manner
  • froth-top – the top part of a wave
  • oiler – the person who lubricates and maintains the working parts of the ship
  • correspondent – Though unclear from the story, it probably refers to a news-paperman aboard the ship.
  • bow – the front section of a boat
  • willy nilly – without thought or planning; suddenly
  • surmounting – rising above
  • wan – pale
  • bailing – Since it was storming, it was necessary to empty the water from the ship back into the sea.
  • Canton flannel gulls – birds that gather in groups at sea
  • wistfully – with melancholy or yearning
  • made with a jack-knife – made roughly; not carved with fine lines and a proper tool.
  • painter – a rope attached at the front, used to tie the boat up
  • Sevres – expensive French porcelain
  • stern – the rear section of a boat
  • apropos – appropriate
  • men had reached pink condition – the best physical condition
  • foundering – sinking
  • ingenuously – innocently
  • direful – terrible
  • waifs – homeless, helpless, and friendless people
  • opprobrious – scornful and judgmental
  • epithets – curses
  • admonitions – words of caution
  • seven mad gods who rule the seas – Sailors speak of “sailing the seven seas,” but in this case, Crane is probably equating the unpredictability of the ocean with the whims and capriciousness of the gods.
  • billows – large waves
  • wily – cunning
  • furrowed – grooved
  • “Ain't they peaches?” – “Aren't they something special?”
  • obstreperous – loud and unruly
  • omnibus – a large vehicle used to transport groups of people
  • yawls – boats having four to six oars; large sailing vessels
  • port bow – the left front side of a ship
  • contrivance – an invented object
  • the old babes in the wood – innocent people in a serious or dangerous circumstance
  • astern – the back of the boat
  • phosphorescence – a glowing light
  • crystalline – having a crystal-like appearance
  • whiroo – a noise created by movement
  • “the desire to confront a personification” – referring to nature as a person; the narrator claims that Nature is indifferent to man's troubles and “does not regard him as important.” Humans cannot confront the forces of an implacable foe, despite a desire to do so.
  • supplicant – in the manner of praying; hands folded
  • pathos – lonely suffering
  • Algiers – a large city in Algeria in Northern Africa
  • “A soldier of the Legion lay. . .my native land.” – part of a poem entitled “Bingen on the Rhine” by Caroline Norton (1808 – 1877); “Legion” refers to the French Foreign Legion, a military group or army that served France during its colonial period.
  • myriads – large numbers
  • thwart – a brace on the side of a boat
  • roseate – having a rose-like color
  • “teeth played all the popular airs” – a euphemism for chattering teeth; “airs” are songs.
  • carmine – crimson or red in color
  • acquiesced – agreed to; gave in
  • “This tower. . .plight of the ants.” – a metaphor; once again, Crane is emphasizing the lack of importance of people. Their potential death at sea is insignificant to everything but them; the men are nothing more than ants.
  • pallor – a paleness
  • white comber – a huge wave that crashes unto the sand
  • gunwale – the upper portion of the side of a boat
  • keel – the bottom of a boat
  • cessation – a stopping

The Open Boat

Stephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871, the last of fourteen children in a devout Methodist family. Son to a roaming minister, Crane soon left his birthplace of Newark, New Jersey, to begin a life of wandering. His schooling was short-lived, and Crane began a writing career by going to work with his brother on a newspaper in New York.

Crane's first serious attempt to publish a novel was unsuccessful. In Maggie: A Girl of the Street, Crane wrote about the harsh realities of a prostitute's life, but the novel's material made it nearly impossible for him to obtain a publisher. Crane's next endeavor, however, The Red Badge of Courage, proved successful.

Crane's thirst for new experiences led him to Cuba, to cover its rebellion against Spain. While in Florida, though, he met and fell in love with Cora Taylor, a married woman. Crane traveled to Greece, where he worked as a war correspondent. While in Greece, Cora unexpectedly joined Crane, and the unmarried couple then moved to Sussex, England.

In 1898, Crane once again traveled to Cuba as a war correspondent, this time during the Spanish-American War. While in Cuba, however, he contracted malaria, and his health rapidly deteriorated.

Stephen Crane died from tuberculosis in 1900, at the age of 29.

  • timberland – a forest
  • intangible – unable to felt or touched; fake
  • undulations – wave-like movements
  • Chilcoot Pass – [Chilkoot] a passageway once used by the Chilcoot people. The pass made its way between the Pacific coast and the Yukon River Valley. Eventually, people began using the passage to search for gold in the center of Alaska.
  • Dyea – a nearly abandoned town in Alaska near the Chilcoot Pass
  • Dawson – a town in Canada in Yukon Territory; this town was very popular during the Klondike gold rush in the late 1800s.
  • Nulato – a minimally populated Alaskan town
  • St. Michael – a very small city in Alaska, bordering the Bering Sea
  • Chechaquo – [Cheechako] a newcomer; a word from the Chinook people, native to Alaska
  • conjectural – supposed
  • speculatively – thoughtfully
  • protruding – bulging out
  • temperamental – inconsistent
  • unwonted – unusual
  • jowls – cheeks
  • appendage – an attachment
  • furrow – a groove
  • monotonously – wearily, boringly, dully
  • reiterated – repeated
  • pang – a severe pain
  • “like a startled horse” – From the story's start, the differences between the man and the dog are distinct. Now, in this instant, the dog and the man show similarities. Although the man reasons based on intellect, this situation requires him to use innate, animal instinct that is a subconscious reaction.
  • skirted – moved quickly
  • compelled – urged, forced
  • smote – affected
  • imperative – essential, necessary
  • ebbed – fell back, declined
  • sheaths – coverings
  • conflagration – a fire
  • boughs – the branches of a tree
  • freighted – weighed down
  • imperceptible – impossible to imagine
  • flotsam – wreckage, debris
  • brimstone – sulfur
  • spasmodically – violently, fitfully
  • ensued – followed
  • acute – sharp
  • apathetically – indifferently, unresponsively
  • peremptorily – absolutely, definitely
  • throttle – to strangle
  • oppressive – burdensome
  • poignant – distressing
  • Mercury – a messenger for the gods in Roman mythology
  • chidden – scolded
  • bristle – to stiffen

The Cask of Amontillado

Known as the “Father of the Modern Short Story” and the “Father of the Mystery and Detective Story,” Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1848) is also viewed as one of the great American writers of the nineteenth century. After his father abandoned the family and his mother's death a year later, Poe was taken in by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan, but they never adopted him. While they lived in England, Poe and his stepfather began to argue fiercely and frequently. Mrs. Allan died, John remarried, and he and Poe became even further estranged.

Poe began writing in 1827 but became popular only after the publication of his poem, “The Raven,” in 1845. His poems and stories are carefully and beautifully constructed, presenting one coherent whole without any diversions or subplots. Poe's philosophy of writing departed from the commonly accepted one because he refused to write didactic, moralistic stories, but rather entered the world of popular entertainment due to the dark subject matter he wrote about. Often considered the master of the macabre, Poe also wrote precise literary criticism, which influenced generations of future writers.

Because of his lifestyle—which included a marriage to his 14-year-old cousin, and battles with alcoholism and possibly drugs—and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, Poe's contemporary critics frequently undervalued his talents. Modern evaluations, though, recognize that Edgar Allan Poe left behind an enduring legacy of work that few others will ever equal.

  • avocations – hobbies, leisure activities
  • divers – various, diverse
  • waive – to put aside
  • Imprimis – [Latin] “in the first place”
  • proverbially – consistently
  • John Jacob Astor – one of the wealthiest men of the United States at the time
  • prudence – wisdom
  • orbicular – like a sphere
  • bullion – gold bars
  • Master in Chancery – an officer of the court who assists the judge
  • remunerative – profitable
  • indignation – anger
  • abrogation – elimination; cancellation
  • advent – an arrival
  • pursy – short of breath due to obesity
  • florid – colorfully decorated
  • meridian – high noon
  • wane – to lessen
  • indecorous – improper behavior
  • remonstrate – to protest
  • admonitions – criticisms
  • abridge – to shorten
  • fervid – intense, compassionate
  • gesticulating – using gestures to express ideas
  • marshal – to organize
  • sallow – having a yellow, unhealthy color
  • evinced – displayed, exhibited
  • usurpation – the seizing of power
  • betokened – indicated, shown
  • maledictions – speaking ill of a person
  • Tombs – a jail in New York, known for its horrid conditions
  • deportment – a person's behavior
  • reproach – a disgrace
  • execrable – detestable
  • doff – to remove
  • abate – to lessen
  • obstreperousness – boisterousness, noisiness; uncontrollable behavior
  • pernicious – causing destruction
  • restive horse is said to feel his oats – a horse gets energetic once it eats; a cliché meaning that Turkey is enthusiastic about his new coat.
  • restive – unruly, restless
  • vintner – a wine maker
  • potations – alcoholic beverages
  • thwarting – attempting to stop
  • vexing – annoying
  • superfluous – more than needed
  • paroxysms – outbursts
  • “His father was a carman. . .” – a person who sells wares from a cart
  • alacrity – a quick action
  • purveyor – a supplier
  • fain – willing
  • nigh – close
  • Custom House – the place where ships come in and pay the duty on their cargo; traditionally, this would have been the first place the captain of a boat went to after landing.
  • mollified – calmed, relaxed
  • recondite – difficult to understand
  • pitiably – full of pity
  • forlorn – sad; alone
  • trifling – of little importance
  • sanguine – cheerful and optimistic
  • Byron – a reference to Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824), the English Romantic poet; essentially Melville is saying that someone with too fiery a personality could not be a scrivener. It would take a more quiet and reserved person to put up with the monotony required to do this job.
  • consternation – great fright and terror
  • moon-struck – the moon is frequently associated with making one's mind unbalanced or crazy
  • bust of Cicero – (106 – 43 BC), a Roman philosopher, writer, and orator
  • High Court of Chancery – an English court, in which the judge determines the outcome based on fairness or “equity,” rather than law; this type of court is not in existence in England anymore.
  • hermitage – an isolated and secluded home
  • pillar of salt – an allusion to the Old Testament, Genesis 19:26, in which Lot's wife looks back at the city of Sodom as it burns and God turns her into a pillar of salt; in this case, the lawyer is frozen in place, startled and barely able to move.
  • ignominiously – with disrespect
  • gainsay – to disagree
  • browbeaten – intimidated into action
  • suffrage – the right to vote
  • deferentially – respectfully
  • dyspeptic – pessimistic
  • scrivener – a writer; person who writes and proofreads for others as a profession
  • perpetual sentry – one who is constantly standing on watch
  • thither – toward a place
  • reveries – dream-like thoughts
  • insolence – insulting behavior, rudeness
  • pugilistic – like a boxer
  • inveteracy – a deeply settled condition
  • folio – a folded document
  • dissipation – the act of breaking apart; dissolving
  • incipient – a beginning
  • visage – a face
  • dishabille – disheveled; informally attired
  • effrontery – boldness without shame
  • ere – before
  • violate the proprieties of the day – People did not work on Sundays—it was a day of rest.
  • proprieties – proper behaviors
  • deserted as Petra – a deserted, ancient city in Jordan; it is famous for its Temple and notable for its large rock formations.
  • “Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!” – Marius (157 – 86 BC) was a famous Roman general and consul and was a popular image in paintings and statues of the day; he was a strong foe of the aristocracy. The painting referred to in Bartleby is by John Vanderlyn, but the correct title is “Marius Contemplating the Ruins of Carthage.” Carthage is a city in Northern Africa.
  • pallid – pale
  • presentiments – bad feelings about a future occurrence
  • refectory – a room designated for eating
  • haughtiness – upper class mannerisms
  • austere – strict in appearance and manners
  • err – to be mistaken, incorrect
  • defray – to pay expenses
  • attenuated – thin; weakened
  • nettled – annoyed
  • aberration – an abnormality; something that is atypical
  • steadfastly – without wavering
  • vouchsafed – gave permission
  • become a millstone – a heavy stone used to grind grain; the quote is a Biblical allusion to Matthew 18:6. Jesus said it is better that a millstone be hung about a person's neck rather than offend a child.
  • plume – self congratulate
  • sagacious – intelligent, wise
  • “there was the rub” – an allusion to a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet—“aye, there's the rub”; the rub is the thing that makes something difficult, dangerous, or hard to understand.
  • veering – changing directions
  • “. . .like the man who. . .by a summer lightning. . .” – probably a reference to President Benjamin Harrison (1726 – 1791), who was struck by lightning and died at his home
  • “A new commandment. . .ye love one another.” – a Biblical reference from John 13:34
  • despondency – loss of courage; extreme sadness
  • “Edwards on the Will” – Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758), an American preacher, who wrote on free will versus God's will and other religious topics
  • “Priestley on Necessity” – Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804), an English scientist and religious writer, who wrote The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated
  • predestinated – the Biblical concept that all of life is planned by God; every detail is determined before a person is born, and nothing can alter the plan.
  • billeted – assigned to live in a citizen's home
  • intolerable incubus – a burden that can be oppressive and nightmarish; an incubus is a demon that drains people of their strength.
  • mason – to construct with brick or stone
  • upbraided – criticized
  • forebodings – omens; feelings of future doom
  • unwonted – out of the ordinary
  • precipitately – suddenly
  • quiescent – without motion
  • acquiesced – gave permission, gave in
  • turnkey – a prison guard
  • Monroe Edwards – (1808 – 1847), a famous counterfeiter and slave smuggler, who died in Sing Sing Prison in New York
  • clefts – openings
  • “With kings and counselors” – a quotation from Job 3:14; Job expresses his desire die. Here, the lawyer is saying that Bartleby is at last resting with all those who have died before.

Bartleby, the Scrivener

A brilliant, but neglected, writer in his time, Herman Melville (1819 – 1891) is today considered one of the greatest American masters of symbolism in the nineteenth century. He was born in New York City, the third of eight children of Allan and Maria Melvill (the e in his name was added later). Because of business failures, his family moved to Albany, New York. As a young man, however, Melville went to sea, where he gained the firsthand knowledge that appears in many of his stories. In 1849, he wrote his first novel, Typee, which was based on his experiences among cannibals; through it, he achieved some success and moved to Massachusetts, where his neighbor was Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the two became friends.

Melville's best works, though, were largely ignored during his lifetime. In 1851, he completed his masterpiece, Moby Dick, but the public and contemporary critics felt that it was a second-rate book.Billy Budd , which is highly popular today, was not even published until 1924.

When he died at 72 after a lengthy illness, he was not viewed as a leading American author. In the twentieth century, though, a revival of his works occurred, and today, he is widely read.

  • Salem – the city in Massachusetts that is primarily known for its 1692 witchcraft trials
  • smote – struck
  • boughs – the branches of a tree
  • devilish Indian – Native Americans were thought to be children of Satan; the Puritans regarded them as pagans.
  • Old South – a Bostonian church built in 1669
  • abashed – embarrassed, uncomfortable
  • King William's court – a reference to the King of England, William of Orange, who ruled with his wife, Mary, from 1689 – 1702
  • great black snake – an allusion to Satan, who tempted Eve in the form of a serpent
  • “having kept covenant by meeting thee here” – Goodman had previously made a vow that he would be there; the word covenant is often used to indicate an agreement with God, but in this instance, it is referring to an agreement with Satan.
  • covenant – a verbal contract, agreement
  • Puritans – the religious sect that broke away from the Anglican Church in England; the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock and settled both Plymouth and Boston.
  • Quaker – a religious group that disagreed with the Puritan beliefs; the Puritans viewed Quakers as heretics.
  • King Philip's War – This is the English name given to a chief of the Wampanoag tribe; his Native American name is Metacomb. He greatly distrusted the colonists, and after a series of misunderstandings, as well as some murders, the war of 1675 began. Many soldiers, citizens, and Native Americans were killed.
  • verily – honestly
  • deacons – church officials
  • communion wine – the drink used to symbolize the significance of Christ's death on the cross
  • selectmen – town officers
  • Great and General Court – the name of the state legislature of Massachusetts
  • husbandman – a farmer
  • Sabbath day and lecture day – Sunday and the mid-week church meeting
  • catechism – a series of set religious questions and answers
  • Goody – alsoGood Wife, used as a title before a last name
  • forsooth – absolutely
  • Cory – a possible reference to Martha Corey, one of the accused in the Salem Witch Trials; she was a respected member of the community. However, the judge convicted her and, contrary to what Hawthorne writes, Martha Cory was hanged.
  • anointed – placing oil on a persons skin in a ceremony
  • “. . .my broomstick. . .and wolf's bane.” – These terms are all related to sorcery and witchcraft. Smallage is a celery-type herb, cinquefoil is another edible herb, and wolf's bane is an herbal poison. When combined in a witch's brew, these ingredients supposedly made a potion that enabled a person to fly.
  • fat of a new-born babe – The child would have had to have been killed; infanticide was a common belief about witches and one of the reasons people suspected of witchcraft were persecuted.
  • “. . .we shall be there in a twinkling.” – the short flash of the eye; it would represent the time it takes a witch to move from place to place.
  • Egyptian magi – a reference to the magicians in Pharaoh's court who turned their staffs into serpents to intimidate Moses
  • cognizance – the ability to use and judge information
  • catechism – part of religious education
  • exhorted – strongly recommended
  • steeds – horses
  • vexed – irritated, annoyed
  • ordination – the ceremony when a man becomes a preacher or priest
  • Indian powwows – Native American gatherings, viewed as pagan behavior by the Puritans
  • “Spur up. . .” – to go faster; “put the spurs to your horse”
  • firmament – heaven
  • zenith – the point in the sky directly above the observer
  • lamentations – loud cries of grief and concern
  • “to fly along the forest path” – another reference to the fast movements of witches
  • fiend – a term for Satan
  • lurid – reddish
  • benignantly – showing kindness to others
  • the lady of the governor – At one point, there were rumors that even the governor's wife was a witch, but she was never formally accused.
  • sanctity – holiness, purity of religious life
  • unconcerted – separated
  • prince – a reference to Satan
  • impious – without holiness
  • similitude – similar in appearance
  • grave divine of the New England churches – the pastor
  • converts – a religious term used when someone turns to Christianity; here it is twisted and means turning to Satan.
  • thither – towards something
  • “Martha Carrier. . .queen of hell.” – one of the first women tried as a witch
  • reverenced – respected
  • hoary-bearded – having a grey beard
  • wanton – inconsiderate, careless
  • widows' weeds – mourning clothes that a woman wears after the death of her husband
  • basin – a bowl used to hold liquids
  • mark of baptism – The Puritans believed in sprinkling, not in total immersion in water, in order to be baptized.
  • anathema – a curse or punishment; something abhorrent
  • lattice – crossed wooden strips with openings in between
  • eventide – evening