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Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

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    Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain is his memoir about vital river life during the steamboat era and a remembrance of it after the Civil War. . Mark Twain (1835-1910) grew up Samuel Langhorne Clemens on the Mississippi River in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri. Twain was a journalist, essayist, and writer of short stories and novels. Mark Twain tells of his life on the river, humorous stories, and a glimpse of his life during his childhood. This Memoir displays a detailed account about how life was like in America in the nineteenth century.

    The way Mark Twain writes this book is very interesting. It is not a straight forward bibliography. It is more like a book based on actual events. The book tells the story of Mark Twain’s life, but he makes up some of the names of characters and stories. Twain goes into a lot of side stories. Sometimes it can be chapter after chapter of side stories before he comes back to the main story of himself. The main theme of this work is the steamboat and its effect on the lives of people that lived along the great river system in America.

    This river system is made up mainly of the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio. Twains memoir writing is noticeably different in the second half of the book. Mark twain uses extreme detail to give the readers a comprehensive image about how life on the Mississippi was during his lifetime. Twain did a great job at documenting the nature of life during his time. The memoir also gives a good example how different life in America was than today. Mark Twains’ Life on the Mississippi gives a clear picture of how life was like in America in the nineteenth century.

    It was written by an eyewitness who led an interesting life that began on the Mississippi River. Life was lazy and slow paced until a steamboat arrived. “I can picture the old time: the white town drowsing in the sunshine; the streets empty; a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk; lonely piles of freight on the levee; a pile of skids on the wharf, with nobody present to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets on it”(pg. 30). This boring way of life totally transformed into a more life-filled, enjoyable life as the steam boat approached.

    The negro drayman’s cry of “S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin” changed everything. “every house and store pours out a human contribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and moving. Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many quarters to a common center, the wharf. Assembled there, all the people fix their eyes on the coming boat as a wonder they are seeing for the first time. “(pg. 31)There is activity concerned with unloading and loading freight and passengers. This was the town’s lifeline for not trade only but also for news from other areas.

    There was no other way to travel as quickly as on the river. There was no other way to learn about what was happening in the world outside of Hannibal. ” After ten more minutes the town is dead again, “(pg. 32). It seemed to be a simple life and everything seemed relaxed. There was no traffic hurrying around and no one seemed to travel very far from home. It was the reason why many children dreamed to get away on a steamboat. They wanted some adventure and to see more of the world. The young Sam Clemens swam out to boats passing on the river to get away for a little while.

    He listened to the men on board to hear about any news, or just enjoy seeing strangers. This type of life is in contrast with today’s life in America. Life in American and elsewhere in the world is fast-paced, even though people travel much faster through the introduction of high-speed rails and airplanes. There are many sources of information of what is going on in the world such as radios, TV channels, and the internet. In comparison, kids now dream of traveling into space just as they once dreamed of traveling to exotic places on a riverboat.

    Mark Twain wrote this memoir eighteen years after the end of the Civil War. He served for a short time with the Confederate Army, but he was not dedicated to its cause, and was “a half-hearted confederate soldier”. He left the river for Nevada, and was gone far longer that he thought he would be. The first half of Life on the Mississippi was ideally written and reading the extremely detailed and captivating account of Twain’s apprenticeship was quite enjoyable. However, the second part of the book was not as fascinating.

    The short stories were frequently only two pages long and were not very well connected to be a clear read. Though a few of the characters Twain met on his journey were quite interesting, the majority of them merely served as an example of a certain characteristic which he wished to further discuss. This may be due to the fact that Twain was much older by the time he made the trip in the second half of the book, and he had grown aware of the various faults of humanity and thus wrote more analytically and critically than he did in the first half to reflect his change in character and the change of the times he lived in.

    Judging from his detailed account of the settings, Mark Twain may have written Life on the Mississippi in order to document and preserve the steamboat way of life, which was soon to disappear. It is different from other books of this period because Twain was an extremely talented writer, and his uncommonly regional approach to documenting the speech and habits of the people serve as clear witness to his dedication and authenticity as a source of information.

    Twain might have also did not wish to draw personal conclusions based on his experiences on his journey down the Mississippi River as he was focused on giving a detailed portrayal, but one can be sure he came to negative conclusions regarding many of the people he met. Overall, The Life on the Mississippi is quite positive. Mark Twain proved himself to be talented as a writer and his style of writing is effective as informational literature and also enjoyable reading material at the same time.

    The way he frequently sprinkles entertaining tales throughout the book, such as one regarding how a “haunted barrel” followed a steamboat for six days and made six crew members fall to his death, manages to captivate the reader’s interest even amidst the more uneventful periods of his travels. In addition, Twain clearly demonstrated his expert knowledge of the art of steamboating through his descriptions of techniques to deal with submerged snags, bluff reefs, shallow shoals, and other obstacles.

    The only major disappointment one may point out with this memoir is that the second half of the book is filled with too many loosely connected short chapters. An example of a few of the frequently two to four paged chapters (more specifically chapters 22 to 60), would be the chapters 37 to 41, where the topics one by one go from new of Twain’s brother’s death, to a description of the architecture of a Victorian house, to the industrial developments in Vicksburg, to festivities of a carnival held in Baton Rouge, to a complaint of a town’s gross hygiene regarding corpses.

    It could be understood that Mark Twain was making a journey and that there were many encounters past his control, but many would agree that he should have made more of a conscious effort to portray a continuing theme or explore a more important issue of the time. Despite that, judging from the fact that most of the book is nonfiction and that Mark Twain actually experienced these journeys and lived during this period, one can be confident that this book is relatively accurate account of the various aspects of life on the Mississippi in the mid 1800’s.

    Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain is most certainly a classic that has stood the test of time. Twains addition of the many side stories has certainly has changed the way the reader previews this memoir. Twains writing in his memoir is noticeably different in the second half of the book mainly due to his experience in life and change in personality.

    Mark twain use of extreme detail to give the readers a vivid image about how life on the Mississippi was during his lifetime reflects the great literary skills of Mark Twain. Twain did a great job at documenting the nature of life during his time. Life on The Mississippi could be used to illustrate the difference of life in America compared to today. How different life in America was than today. I would certainly recommend this memoir to anyone who is interested in steamboats or the American way of life in the mid 1800’s.

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    Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. (2016, Dec 24). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What did Mark Twain say about the Mississippi river?
    "Your true pilot cares nothing about anything on earth but the river, and his pride in his occupation surpasses the pride of kings."
    What is Life on the Mississippi about summary?
    Life on the Mississippi is an autobiographical chronicle of Mark Twain's adventures during his training as a steamboat captain when he was twenty-one years old. The book includes some historical context about the Mississippi River, such as explorer Hernando de Soto's encounter with the river in 1542.

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