The Mysterious Stranger Essays and Criticism
by Mark Twain

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Critical Essay on No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

(Short Stories for Students)

August Feldner, the narrator of Mark Twain’s ‘‘No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger,’’ works as an apprentice in a print shop. August often describes events, situations, and characters in terms familiar to the printing trade. Thus, throughout the story, he expresses himself through metaphors drawn from printing terminology.

In comparing the personality of Marie Vogel, the step-daughter of the print master, to that of Marget Regen, the niece of the print master, August makes extensive use of metaphors drawn from the printer’s trade. He describes Marie Vogel in the following terms:

She was a second edition of her mother—just plain galley-proof, neither revised nor corrected, full of turned letters, wrong fonts, outs and doubles, as we say in the printing-shop—in a word pi.

In stating that Marie was ‘‘a second edition of her mother,’’ August indicates that, just as the second edition of a published book is almost exactly the same as the first edition, so Marie resembles her mother almost exactly. In describing her as ‘‘just plain galley-proof, neither revised nor corrected,’’ August is referring to a preliminary stage in the printing of a book before it has been edited, revised, and corrected. He then lists a variety of errors that can occur in a print text at this stage in the process: ‘‘turned letters’’ are letters that are upside down; ‘‘wrong fonts’’ are letters in the wrong size or design; ‘‘outs’’ are letters that have been accidentally left out of a text; and ‘‘doubles’’ are words that have been accidentally repeated. August sums up his description of Marie in describing her as ‘‘pi,’’ which is a printer’s term referring to a hodge-podge of mixed-up type, such as may result from dropping a form filled with individual letters of movable type. In other words, Marie has an extremely flawed personality, similar to the flawed text of a galleyproof, which contains many errors, or a jumble of individual letters of print type, without order or significance.

In contrast to his description of Marie Vogel, whom he doesn’t like, August uses print terminology to express his admiration for Marget Regen, whom he is in love with. He states, ‘‘She was a second edition of what her mother had been at her age; but struck from the standing forms and needing no revising, as one says in the printing-shop.’’

Like Marie, Marget is described as a ‘‘second edition’’ of her mother. However, while Marie is compared to a text that is full of flaws and errors, Marget is compared to a text that is perfect and flawless. Standing forms are trays of type that have already been set and corrected, and can be made available for printing subsequent editions of a book. Thus, in describing Marget as ‘‘struck from the standing forms’’ he implies that, as her mother was also flawless, she in turn inherited her mother’s perfect character without alteration. That Marget ‘‘needs no revising’’ means that, like a text that is without errors, she is without flaws and perfect as is.

Later in the story, Doangivadam, an itinerant printer, also uses terminology from the printing trade to express himself metaphorically. When Doangivadam asks Number 44’s name, and Number 44 replies, ‘‘No. 44, New Series 864,962,’’ Doangivadam asserts: ‘‘My—word, but it’s a daisy! In the hurry of going to press, let’s dock it to Forty- Four and put the rest on the standing-galley and let it go for left-over at half rates.’’

Doangivadam is responding to the fact that Number 44’s full name is rather long, and a mouthful to pronounce. He suggests that ‘‘in the hurry of going to press,’’ meaning to save time, they shorten his name to Forty-Four. A standing-galley is a place where units of type are stored for reuse; thus he suggests the extraneous letters and digits in Number 44’s name (‘‘New Series, 864,962’’), be set aside as extraneous material. Further, he...

(The entire section is 8,380 words.)