Pre-Civil War of America: in Mark Twain's Time

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      Industry, in the eighteenth century, was crude and low-tech in character. The primordial methods of agriculture and the cultivation of tobacco led to a quick depletion of the soil. The beginning of Industrialization led to the setting up of mills. As a result, the demand for cotton surpassed that tor tobacco. Cotton and rice became the staple crops of the South. But they produced such low yields that it was no more economically viable to go on without a massive increase in slave labor. The demand for cheap labor, therefore, soared and more and more slaves were imported from poor countries like Africa. The Southern states in America, having a predominantly agrarian economy, were heavily dependent on these slaves. As a result, most of the land, in the slave states, was owned by the slaveholders. By the end of the year 1850, a large percentage of all American blacks amassed in the South, and, amongst them, almost 95 percent were slaves.

      As Historian James Horton, has pointed out, "Slavery was no sideshow in American; history it was the main event. He remarks, The value of slaves was greater than the dollar value of all America's banks all of America's railroads, all of America's manufacturing put together" He considers slavery an integral part of what led to the growth and development of the United States of America.

      The conditions were inhumane and bestial for these African slaves. Besides being separated from their wives and children, they had no other rights. Children were taken away from their mothers and did not belong to them; they belonged to the slave owners. Working conditions were acerbic. Atrocities were meted out at the slightest pretext. Slaves could own no property. The rape of a female slave was not considered a crime except when it entailed encroaching on another man's property. Slaves could not present evidence in court against "Whites". Quality of life was low-grade. In most of the South, it was illegal to educate a "black".

      Slavery led to a considerable escalation in tension between the Northern and the Southern states. With the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, came the document that proclaimed all the slaves in the confederate states as free. But, in actuality, this Emancipation Proclamation freed few people: It did no good to slaves in the southern states. The southern states perceived the emancipation of four million slaves as a great threat to the largely agrarian economy that banked heavily on these slaves and cheap labour. Nevertheless, it formed the basis for the end of slavery with the Civil War.

      The Southern states withdrew from the North (the Union) and formed a separate government the confederate's government. This resulted in a bloody battle, the Civil War that lasted four years and cost half a million lives. The increasingly urbanized and industrialized Northern (Union) states defeated the Confederates (the predominantly agrarian southern states). This led to the restoration of the Union and the end of slavery in the United States of America, followed by the period of "Reconstruction"


      Twain walked, this earth during one of the most tumultuous times, not only in the history of America but also that of the entire world. From the period of "Reconstruction", following the Civil War, he witnessed America emerge from its status as a country torn by internal conflicts to one of rapid Industrialization.

      He came during a time when slavery was the "acceptable" and the right thing. The American South was what he called home. This is where he was exposed to the quintessential social conditioning that upheld certain social norms, such as Racism Cruelty towards the Blacks was "normal". When it came to; the slaves, there was no question of equality or human rights.

      As a result of his extensive travels, within America and also in the rest of the world, Mark Twain broadened his perspectives and outlook on what he saw around him, Being a journalist as well as a keen observer, his perceptions made him a bitter satirist and critic of the accepted social values. Through his novels and characters, he portrays his dissatisfaction with these so-called acceptable social conventions."

      Lynching (hanging without a level trial) and mob mentality was a fact of life during Twain's times. The mob was judge, jury, and hangman, all rolled in one. We see biting satire on this subject in several novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the essay, Only a Nigger, by Mark Twain, Lewis Allan's poem, Strange Fruit, Texan journalist and fiction writer Dan Parkinson's short story, The Prodigal.

      Twain termed the concept of lynching "Moral Cowardice", "the epidemic of bloody insanities" and said that it is "the commanding feature of the make-up of 9,999 men in the 10,000. The United States of Lyncherdom, is an essay that Twain wrote in 1901, in response to a newspaper chronicle of an incident of double lynching of elderly African-Americans in Missouri. He even contemplated using it as an introduction to a book history of lynching in America. Later, he decided against it because he realized that he wouldn't have "even half a friend left down there (in the South) after it issued from the press."

      Many historians believe that the prevalence of aggression and mob sadism emanated from the fact that "the great mass of southerners, during the late nineteenth century, had lost faith in the courts". As a result of frustration with the legal system, there was a lack of trust, promptness, and efficiency in the "punishment of criminals". The inefficiency of the legal system is aptly demonstrated by Col. Sherburn's speech to the angry mob.

Why don't your juries hang murderers? Because they're afraid the man's friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark and it's just what they would do."

     Evidence of this mob mentality is given in Mark Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Col. Sherburn chastises the mob and makes them realize what cowards they are.

"You didn't want to come. The average man doesn't like trouble and danger You don't like trouble and danger. But if only half a man - like Buck Harkness, there shouts Lynch him! lynch him!' you're afraid to back down - afraid you'll be found out to be what you are cowards and so you raise a yell, and hang yourselves on to that half a man's coat-tail, and come raging up here, swearing what big things you're going to do. The pitifullest thing out is a mob; that's what an army is - a mob; they don't fight with courage that's born in them, but with courage that's borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it is beneath pitifulness".

     It is evident that Mark Twain blended his social observation with his writings and churned out several masterpieces which encompass elements of verisimilitude. External perceptions shaped his character and made Samuel Longhorne Clemens the great novelist, Mark Twain. Being a well-known campaigner of society and a reformer, Twain calls himself a "statesman with no salary".


      The Romantic movement saw an upsurge in the late 18th century. As a departure from the decorum of neo-classicism, its set of social principles and diktats, it was illustrated by an acceptance of the free expression of man's emotions and the beauty of nature. Belief in the goodness of humanity, the supremacy of emotions and senses over reason, and the acceptance of the artist as the most supreme creator, were some of its other most prominent features. The works of American artists such as Emerson, Thoreau, and the poems of Longfellow embody this sentiment.

      The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century drastically changed the outlook of the multitude of people affected by it. The advent of new machinery equipped people with a new source of earning their livelihood. No longer did they have to bank upon archaic methods of farming to provide for their families. This meant that people no longer had the time or persistence to revel in the tardiness of flowery, romantic literature. Realist literature was something that contemporary people could relate to more closely. It helped them associate it with their struggle. Moreover, the Civil War was a time of great upheaval.

      As a reaction against the romantic strain of the late 18th an early 19th centuries, came the upsurge of the Realistic movement. It was characterized by a yearning towards the literal truth and veracity. The realist writers chose their subjects from real life, with all the sordidness of bare facts, without any temptation to modify the same. They prioritized truth and facts over embellishments and plots. George Eliot introduced Realism in England, while William Dean Howells introduced it in America. Psychological realism, as we see in the works of Mark Twain, is another prominent feature of the Realism of the times. A human being's tussle with his conscience, the almost invincible mental dilemmas were features of such a Literature.

      By reading the works of Twain, we can delve deep into his times and piece together the contemporary scenario. As Twain once wrote, "Supposing is good, but finding out is better".

      Twain captures the contemporary American social scene through various literary works. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, (1894), by Mark Twain, is set before the American Civil War. It is the story of a young slave girl who, apprehensive of the safety of her light-skinned child, exchanges her with that of her master. It is, ostensibly an amusing tale but as a discerning reader would be able to fathom the underlying connotations, it is a biting social commentary of racial inequality of the times.

      Through his novel, The Prince and the Pauper, (1880), Mark Twain, under the garb of delightful comedy, delineates derisive social commentary on the imbalance among different social classes.

      As an escape from the obsession with the senses and emotions of the romantic period, Realist writers detested the ornate descriptions and flashy parlance of the Romantics. The style of the former was more realistic and diction more colloquial.


      Educating the mind was synonymous with religious education. 'Religion' and 'Education' were integral to each other, Right from childhood, educating the young mind was considered akin to preaching the Holy Bible. Few formal textbooks existed and the Holy Bible was resorted to, for this purpose. It was believed that, without complete knowledge of the importance of religion in the lives of people, Education is incomplete. The foremost motive of Education' was to shape the American character and edgily children on uprightness and morality. At the same time, vices such as lying, cheating, stealing, teasing, alcohol, and gluttony, were condemned, vehemently.

      Liberal, secular public education was regarded as having corrosive effects. Therefore, public schools were not preferred and people either homeschooled their children or sent them. to churches, which were the venue for the instruction of sermons.

      In pre-Civil War America, slavery was still being practiced, slaves were denied the right to formal education; they could not learn to read and write. Nonetheless, as a result of their initiative or with voluntary and inadvertent help from their white playmates, some slaves learned to read and write. It was. the aspiration of almost every slave to learn to read the Bible before he died. To fulfill this dream, thousands of slaves even went to the extent of bribing their "White "young masters" to coach them in these skills. As a result of this, when freedom came in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan 1863, the slaves were geared up to demand all their rights that had been outstanding for such a long period of time: The slaves were demanding all that a "White" American was entitled to.


      The cat's tail is only an encumbrance to her, yet she thinks it is the most precious thing she's got. Just so with man and his religion." Mark Twain's words aptly sum up his skeptical attitude towards religion, Religion is one of the most common butts.

      Twain has been persistent in his satire against religion. In the novel under scrutiny, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim is attached to his Superstitious beliefs (which is his concept of religion), Twain displays an inherent rejection of the conventionally accepted codes of religion that surface, time and again, in the novel. The novelist depicts contemporary religion as superficial and phony. Huck says:

      I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don't Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can't the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stolen? Why can't Miss Watson tat up? No, says I to myself, there ain't nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by praying for it was "spiritual gifts." This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant - I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself. This was including Miss Watson, as I took it. I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn't see any advantage about it - except for the other people; so, at last, I reckoned I wouldn't worry about it anymore, but just let it go.

      Mark Twain jumps at the earliest opportunity to verbalize his rejection of conventional religion. Right from the beginning of the novel, when Huck articulates his inclination towards the "bad place" over "Heaven", the attack is evident. Another incident of Twain's invective against religion is when the "King" persuades the religious crowd into believing him that he, indeed, is a reformed pirate from the Indian Ocean and that he needs their financial support so that he could meet his personal aspiration of converting his fellow pirates into good human beings.

      The novel abounds in further incidents of this rejection, when Miss Watson decided to sell off Jim despite her action to "fetch the niggers in for prayers"; the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords commend the sermons on "brotherly love" and, soon afterward, kills members of each other's family in a bloody battle.

      Mark Twain's pronouncement, "surely the ass who invented the first religion ought to be the first ass damned", pertinently sums up his view of religion.

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