Samuel Langhorne Clemens

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Samuel Langhorne Clemens or commonly known as Mark Twain was an American writer and humorist. Twain’s writing is also known for realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of bad faith and oppression. Clemens was born in Florida and then later on moved to Hannibal, Missouri, a Mississippi river port, when he was four years old. There he received a public school education. After his father died in 1847, Clemens was assisted to two Hannibal printers, and in 1851 he began contributing sketches to his brother Orion’s Hannibal Journal. Before long he was a master printer in Keokuk, Iowa; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and other cities. Later, Clemens was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River until the American Civil War brought an end to travel on the river.

In 1861 Clemens served briefly as a volunteer soldier in an irregular company of Confederate cavalry. Later that year he accompanied his brother to the newly created Nevada Territory, where he tried silver and gold mining. In 1862 he became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, and in 1863 he began signing his articles with the assumed name “Mark Twain,” a Mississippi River phrase meaning “two fathoms” deep-safe water for a steamboat.

After moving to San Francisco in 1864, Twain met the American writers Artemus Ward and Bret Harte, who encouraged him in his work. In 1865 Twain modified a tale he had heard in the California gold fields; within months the author and the story , “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” had become national sensations. In 1867 Twain gave a piece of his mind in New York City, and in the same year he visited Europe and the Holy Land. He wrote of these travels in The Innocents Abroad (1869), a book burlesquing those aspects of Old World culture that impress American tourists.

In 1870 he married Olivia Langdon. After living briefly in Buffalo, New York, they moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Much of Twain’s best work was written in the 1870s and 1880s in Hartford or during the summers at Quarry Farm, near Elmira, New York. Roughing It (1872) recounts his early adventures as a miner and journalist; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) celebrates boyhood in a town on the Mississippi River; A Tramp Abroad (1880) describes a walking trip through the Black Forest of Germany ...

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... not disappear after Emancipation, but instead were reenacted or reaffirmed, with even more rigorous definitions of whiteness, during the nineties when anti-black repression took multiple forms, legal and extralegal" (87-88). Twain's novel hints at both the racism of slavery as well as the racism of the world contemporary to his writing. In Latin America and the British West Indies, specific names were given to specific levels of miscegenation. Mulatto, or 1/2 white; sambo, or 1/4 white; quadroon, 3/4 white; mestizo, 7/8 white. Twain plays with these ridiculous levels of "whiteness" by making Roxy 1/16 black or 15/16ths white.

Daring to be different Twain did not stop at mocking the racism of the world surrounding him but also attacked the false pride and self-importance that he saw in humanity. Never bowing before anyone Twain stepped up to the plate and wrote


Clemens, Susy. “Papa, An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain.” 1985.

Eaton, Jeanette. “America’s Own Mark Twain.” 1958.

Hargrove, Jim. “Mark Twain, The Story of Samuel Clemens.”1959.

Twain, Mark, ed. Charles Neider. “The Autobiography of Mark Twain.” First copyright 1917, this edition 1959.
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