Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) has been likened to Walt Whitman as one of the most quintessentially American writers this country has produced. While this book does not contain Mark Twain's complete autobiography, the stories do leave us with more of a flavor for the man and the legend.
As Charles Neider writes in his introduction, "Mark Twain's autobiography is a classic of American letters to be ranked with the autobiographies of Ben Franklin and Henry James... It has the marks of greatness in it—style, scope, imagination, laughter, tragedy."
It becomes clear that Mark Twain was much more than just a writer. He was a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a friend. With these bits of memory, we share the tragedies, triumphs, and adventures of his life. These memories are colored by emotions, and tempered by the fact that the book appeared only after he was dead. As he says, "Now then, that is the tale. Some of it is true."
Early Life & After
Mark Twain helps us to imagine what his childhood was like: the embarrassments, the pranks, and the sibling rivalry... But, as he writes, "a boy's life is not all comedy; much of the tragic enters into it." Twain writes, "I was always told that I was a sickly and precarious and tiresome and uncertain child and lived mainly on allopathic medicines during the first seven years of my life."
"My mother had a good deal of trouble with me but I think she enjoyed it," Twain writes. In his many misadventures, we are sometimes reminded of Tom Sawyer. Throughout Twain's narrative, characters from his novels continue to pop up here and there: Huck Finn, Jim, Injun Joe, Aunt Polly, Colonel Sellers, and so many others under other names. Life appears to be much stranger and more imaginative than fiction for the young Samuel Clemens.
Writing & Life
After Mark Twain survived childhood, he led many different lives. He lived and worked all over the world, writing about his many experiences. Even when there's obvious bitterness related to some of his experiences, he infuses the narrative with humor. Even in tragedy, he's able to triumph through the power of language. He does, after all, have the last word.
Charles Neider writes, "Mark Twain's life was a long and rich one; it seemed to him an inexhaustible mine of recollection. The associations streamed out from it in a million directions and it was his quixotic hope to capture most of them with the irony and humor and storytelling gift which were his own way of regarding human drama."
The Past, Present and Future Merging in the End
Mark Twain writes, "I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it." Great men often write about their lives as they near death. It may be a way of coping with their inevitable demise. Mark Twain, the great American writer and hero is facing the end as he pens the words.
We can hear him crying out in words when he experienced the deaths of his wife and daughters. As he writes about their deaths, so it becomes clear that not enough could ever be written about his life. The spirits of the dead seem to surround him, weighing him down. He remembers all his friends and his enemies. All are dead.
"The storm raged all night," writes Twain. "It has raged all the morning. The snow drives the landscape in vast clouds, superb, sublime..." It's the end.