Two Views of the Mississippi
Before beginning his vocation of being an author Samuel Clemens better known by his pen name Mark Twain, fulfilled his one lasting childhood ambition of becoming a steamboat pilot. Twain writes about his journey on the river in his autobiographical book Life on the Mississippi where in one section he talks about how one thing he would have to do is learn to distinguish the two views of the Mississippi, the beauty of the river and the navigational aspect of the river. I believe that one of the main messages is that even though you may love something, as time goes on you lose the beauty and innocence you had one seen in it. He describes this message through the use of figurative language and well placed rhetoric as he juxtaposes the ideas of the beauty and practicality of the Mississippi River.
Mark Twain begins the first section of this excerpt with the statement that he “had mastered the language of this water”, which in all reality is actually a hyperbole, or an exaggeration, because nothing, ranging anywhere from breathing to performing a surgery, is ever truly able to be perfected or mastered. He uses this hyperbole at the beginning of this section to show how advanced he was in the knowledge of the river in that part of time. Twain then move on to use an oxymoron to describe the features of the river that he had “mastered” as “trifling”, or unimportant, saying that he knew every “trifling feature” along the river as he “knew the letters of the alphabet” with this he is saying that he knew all of these features of the river very well and to him they seemed irrelevant and saying he made a “valuable acquisition”. He uses this language to show us that all of the things along the river that he deals with everyday are irrelevant and unneeded. At the end of this section Twain juxtaposes this statement completely by calling all of these features “useful.” This language works because it creates a paradox with what he had previously said to show. This paradox shows that even though he may have said that this language is unimportant he actually does find it useful and needed in being a steamboat pilot. Twain carries on to say that he had lost something also, saying all of the beauty that he had once seen in the river was all gone except for one “wonderful” sunset that he experienced when he was new to steamboating. He describes the sunset with a metaphor saying “a broad expanse of the river was turned to blood” saying that the river is actually blood; this also personifies the river giving the river the human characteristic of having blood. Whereas later in the section Twain juxtaposes and begins the next bigger paradox with this by saying later in the piece that all the sun meant was that they were going to have wind the next day. Twain then describes the color of the water saying “in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold.” He also talks about the other memorable sights that he saw on the Mississippi that night such as a log floating by and how in one place the water was smooth and there was a “slant mark lay sparkling across the water” and in another the “surface was broken by boiling tumbling rings that were as many-tinted as an opal.” Mark Twain uses a simile to describe the way that the sunset made a tree on the shore look by comparing to a glowing flame saying that “a single leafy bough glowed like a flame.” He uses other romantic words to describe the condition of the water and the surroundings such as “delicately traced” and “graceful curves and that the lights of the sunset were covering his surroundings “with new marvels of colors.” The reason that Twain uses all of this figurative language and tools of figurative language is to in essence describe the beauty he saw that night in a way that it would paint in picture in the mind of the audience. He then goes on to juxtapose all of these previous features that he witnessed during the subject by...
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