Mark Twain's Influence on Realism
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Keywords: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, realism, Mark Twain
Realism brought about events and characters with-in stories that could be easily imagined and related too. The main contributor during the period of realism was Mark Twain with his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain incorporated his own real life experiences into the novels he wrote. Twain expresses many beliefs within society of the time period. Twain accurately and vividly describes settings, places, and emotions. Twain's depiction of the morals and events of the main character in the novel are the most important part of how the story incorporates realism.
Realism in American Literature was most prominent between the Civil War and the turn of the century. Realism incorporates many aspects of life so the reader is easily able to relate to the characters and events. Social class is very important within this period of writing. The characters are more important than any other aspect of the story, without a well developed and accurate character the story will fall apart. Realism writing does not include any type of poetic vocabulary. The vocabulary used in realism writing is "normal speech", terms that people use every day that may not be proper English but a accepted among impersonal conversations. During the time period that this style of writing thrived America was growing and changing as a nation, this provided the perfect habitat for realism writing to flourish (Realism in American Literature).
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is about a neglected young teenage boy. His name is Huck Finn. His father is a mean drunk. The book begins in St. Peters Missouri where his father and he both live. The book tells about the Huck and Tom's adventures in great detail. The novel is told using first person point of view. This viewpoint allows the reader to easily connect with the story because it is told as if the reader was right their interpreting the events himself (Twain).
Twain gives the two main characters of the book, Tom and Huck, realistic character traits. Both boys live befriend each other and the longer they are friends the more their friendship grows and develops. The boys portray a nice and sincere attitude, but they use a devious and teenage attitude much more. They both tend to get into trouble like any teenager would (Twain).
Twain's dialogue throughout the story is "common talk". This means the story does not include any poetic writings or anything of that nature. The dialogue is true spoken as if it was just a conversation between to normal people. No overly fancy words are used, just normal well known and common vocabulary. Using common vocabulary within story dialect is a crucial part in allowing the reader to relate to the characters. Mark Twain even tells the reader beforehand within the preface of the book about his dialects:
In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremist form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech (Twain Explanatory).
Mark Twain's characters are well developed and described. The main character Huck is a thoughtful boy who is very intelligent as far as street smarts go, unfortunately he lacks much of a formal education (Lombardi). Huck is constantly forming his own conclusions about matters going on in the world during his life. An example of his conclusions about important matters in the world is the treatment of black people, Huck feels they are normal humans and should not be treated any differently then himself. This conclusion like many other of Huck's conclusions goes against the grain of society. Tom, Huck's best friend, is basically Huck's other half; whatever Huck lacks in character Tom makes up for. Tom has a wild imagination and is a great thinker. Tom is highly influenced by society, unlike Huck. These influences and the effect they have on Tom encourage Huck is his choice to ignore and disregard the common society thinking and come up with his own conclusions on controversial matters (Byrne).
Mark Twain's settings were vividly described. He was able to achieve such accuracy within his description because of past experiences with in his life; most notably his experience as a steamboat pilot. He used a memory of a sunset he had once seen while out on the boat. He describes this sunset in the novel. The vivid description can be seen within just the first several lines of the 1 page description:
The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line - that was the woods on t'other side; you couldn't make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness spreading around; then the river softened up away off, and warn't black any more, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting along ever so far away-trading-scows... (Twain 163)
Mark Twain clearly influenced the development of realism with his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The book was able to be related to be so many that it became very controversial. When the book first came out in the year 1884 it was not long after in 1885 that the book was banned from the Concord Public Library (Lombardi). Even through the banning of the book in some areas it still reached many people and had a huge impact. Twain paved the road for Realism writing and no other novel will have as much influence on the time period as his did.
- Byrne, William F. Realism, Romanticism, and Politics in Mark Twain. 24 March 2004. 24 December 2009 <http://www.nhinet.org/byrne.htm>.
- Lombardi, Esther. About.com: Classic Literature. 4 December 2009. 14 December 2009 <http://classiclit.about.com/od/marktwainfaqs/f/faq_mtwain_real.htm>.
- Realism in American Literature. 14 July 2008. 12 December 2009 <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/realism.htm>.
- Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1885.