Twain Against The Grain
Mark Twain is most well known for his humorist approach to his literature, usually utilizing Horatian satire. The use of such light satire allows for Twain to approach realism differently than most conventional speakers would when instructed to deliver a speech to the youth of America. In Advice to Youth, Twain lists six various advice-like statements, to aid youth in their transition into adulthood. The advice goes from the kind one would hear from their parents, such as ‘Always obey your parents’, ‘Be respectful of your superiors’ and ‘Go to bed early, Get up early’. Stretching to a more excessive range from ‘Art of lying’ to ‘Never handle firearms carelessly’, both subjects catching the readers attention. Twain’s use of wit, tone, realism and sarcasm allow the young audience to dismiss his advice as comical and a diversion to what the real idea is of the literature.
Twain begins the speech with a serious tone in his writing, a relatable aspect for the older adults who may be indulging in the knowledge brought by Twain. “Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice.” (Peterson 550) Examining the wording of this segment is what uncovers the real motive behind why Twain was to give this speech. The word choice of didactic, meaning ‘intended to teach, moral instruction as ulterior motive’, shows that Twain was to give a speech instructing the youth what society says they should do and how they should react to situations as an ‘adult’. The tone of this segment is poised and lofty sounding, putting Twain in the role of an elder in the society, as compared to the youths. Mark Twain ends the first paragraph with a contradiction to his earlier quote, “First, then. I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgingly—“ (550), by calling the audience, who are clearly younger than himself, ‘young friends’, Twain removes the hierarchy between elders and youth.
By the age of young adult, one has usually heard the phrase “Always obey your parents” thrown around, quite a few times. Mark Twain refreshes Confucius’ idea of respecting one’s elders, with a twist of “when they are present”. He suggests humoring one’s parents by allowing them to continually believe that they know better than the youth, in an attempt to prevent issues in the long run. Twain’s next piece of advice stands true no matter the time period, “Be respectful of your superiors if you have any” (550). The youth reading this may find themselves chuckling at Twain’s use of conditional word choice, by selecting ‘if’. Twain addresses the predicament one may find them in when another offends them. The matter of which to handle the situation, by hitting them with a brick, is Twain’s twist on giving the youth advice. The strategy behind suggesting a immature and uncivilized manner to handle such a trivial confrontation, is that the reader understands Mark Twain’s use of satire to show that one should ‘Leave dynamite to the low and unrefined’, meaning one should let the uncivilized be violent. The main points of advice being that one should ignore remarks made by the less intelligent, and move on with one’s own life.
The last contemporary piece of advice Twain is addressing is the idea of getting up early, a piece of advice mocking towards to the adult reader. The use of the word authorities as in “Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another.” (550) It puts Twain, the one giving the advice, as one of authorities that he speaks of. Twain suggests getting up with the lark, a bird that is usually the one waking the world up. Mockingly, Mark Twain says “if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.” (550), a...
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