Category Archives: Twain (Mark)

Eclipses in Literature

Yesterday’s lunar eclipse brought to mind a couple of books that mention eclipses.

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Books about People Reading Books

Books about books give readers a sense that they are part of a larger community.

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Superstition & Power Relations

To honor Friday’s 13th, here’s how Mark Twain handles superstition in “Huck Finn.”

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#CancelColbert, #CancelMarkTwain

Carl Rosin, a high school teacher I admire tremendously, shares below how he will be using a recent public dust-up about a Stephen Colbert tweet to help his students understand the power and danger of satire, especially as it applies to Huckleberry Finn. I love the tweet that Carl imagines could have emerged out of Huck […]

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Duck Dynasty Patriarch as Pap Finn

Patriarch Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” shares certain characteristics with Pap Finn.

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GOP Whites Splitting? Huck Finn Says No

In “Huck Finn” has predictive value, the class tensions within today’s GOP will be papered over by racism.

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Kid Fight in Congress

At times, Congress looks like two kids squabbling in “Tom Sawyer”–only in this case, the stakes are much higher and one side refuses to act like an adult.

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Aristotle Wrong about Tragic Heroes

Revealing his prejudices, Aristotle tries to limit those whose suffering can be labeled tragic.

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Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here

“Sandy” conjures up for me a traumatic childhood reading experience along with a passage from “The Tempest.”

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Summertime and the Living Is Easy

An afternoon spent in a friend’s boat brought to mind Huck and Jim watching the Mississippi River.

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Head for the Territories, a U.S. Fantasy

When politics become harsh, we still dream, like Huck, of lighting out for the Territory.

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The Myth of Slaves as Faithful Companions

A visiting lecture on “Slaves as Loyal Confederates” reminded me of the complex relationships between black and white as they are explored by Twain and Stowe.

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Barcelona-Madrid Is Like Goneril-Regan

Think of the elder Lear sisters as Barcelona and Madrid and Edmund as a spot in the Champions League final. This would make Goneril Barcelona since she’s the one that emerges (temporarily) triumphant.

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Can the Mississippi Be Bullied?

It appears that New Orleans will be spared the flooding that has occurred further up river, thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers playing God and determining who gets protected and who goes under. While it’s certainly amazing what the Corps has accomplished, but one can’t help but think of Mark Twain’s skepticism in Life on the Mississippi almost 130 years ago.

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Why Does Everyone Hate Duke?

Sports Saturday Once again, one of the most hated teams in the country resides atop the NCAA basketball rankings: Duke University.  In today’s post I find literary equivalents for the general animus against the Blue Devils. For the life of me I can’t understand why Duke is so disliked. Granted, I myself dislike Duke, but […]

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Twain and Libya’s Bloody Endgame

The slaughter continues on in Libya, with the number of dead now in the thousands as Qaddafi turns his mercenaries, machine guns and tanks on his own people. While other parts of the country are in the arms of the resistance, he is holed up in Tripoli. It appears that he will indeed fight to […]

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How Life Looks When One Is Property

Last week we had another fine presentation in the series of Twain lectures that my colleague Ben Click has been running. Once again a talk about race and Huckleberry Finn deepened my respect for that magnificent book. Here are some of the ideas I picked up, which I share with you from memory since I didn’t […]

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Damn the N-Word, Full Speed Ahead

  Writing about interracial friendships in yesterday’s post brings to mind the most famous interracial friendship in literature, that between Huck and Jim. The novel is once again in the news (is it ever out of it?) with a new edition of the novel where the n-word is changed to “slave.” The edition is the brainchild […]

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Mark Twain Made Humor Matter

It is Mark Twain’s unrivaled ability to combine both laughter and enlightenment that makes him continually relevant.

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Huck Finn’s Censorship History

I have always been fascinated by the many ways that literature influences our lives, but, as a literary scholar, I also know that influence is a very hard thing to prove. That’s why I find censorship to be interesting. When people censor a book, they do so because they assume that it can have an […]

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Twain Was No Racist (Not Even Close)

“I hope that like Mark Twain, 100 years from now people will see my work and think, ‘Wow. That is actually pretty racist.’” –Tina Fey accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Thanks to a visiting lecturer in our Mark Twain series, I have a new understanding of Huckleberry Finn that is exciting me […]

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Lit and Our Impoverished Political Culture

I’ve been thinking about how shallow and dishonest political speech has become in recent years. Then again, maybe it’s always been like this and I’m just noticing it more. When politics enter the picture, it appears that people start becoming stupid. Outlandish claims and ridiculous reasoning are either (1) accepted as factual or (2) seen […]

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Barack and Huck, Babo, Hamlet, etc.

I’m fascinated by the way that literature has helped shape and guide different American president, a subject I’ve written about in the past. Thus I was thrilled to stumble across a Barack Obama reading list compiled shortly after his inauguration. I don’t know how I missed it. According to the website The Curious Autodidact (great […]

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Tom Sawyer’s “Behavioral Disorders”

Educational experts have long been concerned about the large numbers of underachieving boys in our school systems. My wife, once a public school teacher and now a member of our Education Department, provided me with some of the explanations. She notes that, of the three learning styles—aural, visual, and kinesthetic—the first two tend to get […]

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Defending Miss Watson

Many readers of Huckleberry Finn enjoy laughing at Miss Watson’s approach to teaching Huck. She tries to use the Bible to scare him into good behavior, insists that he sit still, and prohibits him from smoking and drinking. Romantics that we are, we make fun of her educational philosophy and find her a hypocrite, especially […]

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A War that Won’t Go Away

When I was in middle school, I found myself in the midst of the South’s school desegregation battles. (I was born in 1951 and my family moved to Sewanee, Tennessee in 1954). Therefore, I experienced a disturbing sense of déjà vu when I saw Virginia governor Bob McDonnell two weeks ago declaring a special month […]

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The Favorite Books of American Presidents

I’ve had fun discussing the reading of Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas over the last couple of days, and while I’ve come up dry on further posts about the Supreme Court and literature, it has given me the idea of periodically dipping into reading stories of other political figures. I’ll start a list here, beginning […]

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Empowering Conversations about Race

As I look back over this past week of entries, what conclusions can I draw? First, that literature can serve the cause of race relations in this country. The friendship between Huck and Jim spurred my dreams of black-white friendship when I was a child being raised in segregated schools in the south, and it […]

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Should Huck Finn Be Banned?

How much impact can images from a book like Huckleberry Finn have upon a reader? I’ve written about the importance of Huck’s courageous stand upon me as a young child, so I would answer, “ a tremendous impact.” But could there also be a negative impact? Could the docile and comic Jim undermine the self […]

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Huck and My Desegregation Battles

Here’s a personal story of how a literary classic came to my aid at a critical time in my life. When I was in sixth grade in Sewanee, Tennessee (the year was 1962), I was a plaintiff in a civil rights case. School systems all over the south were defying the Brown vs. Board of […]

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