Critical Essay of Mark Twain's "The Damned Human Race"
Mark Twain, through a heavy dose of satire, irony, and a not-so-subtle attempt at the scientific method, provides readers with an effective, but flawed, argument as to why humans are the lowest of animals in his essay The Damned Human Race. While the essay is successful in providing facts that support Twain's claim of humans have descended from animals, and not the other way around, his bias and pessimism towards the human race in general strongly emanates from the essay, and he does not provide any opportunity for the reader to gather any evidence to the contrary of his beliefs, further limiting the legitimacy of his argument.
Twain provides several sound reasons for stating that humans are worse than animals, all conveyed in an effective manner. He makes simple and definitive statements which are generally believed to be true of humans and not animals, and elaborates on these statements to pinpoint just what is wrong with human beings. For example, Twain states “Man is the only Patriot” (Twain). While most believe this to be a positive trait of humans, Twain immediately follows this statement by stating that humans are the only species to kill one another for their countries, writing: Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for the universal brotherhood of man, with his mouth. (Twain)
Twain goes to on to point out that humans are the only species that take slaves, are the only species to take more than they need, and the only species that claim religions, and provides specific examples of different types of animals behaving differently in this regard (Twain). His points are effective arguments because he uses facts and strong language to solidify each point that he makes, and does so in a way that leaves little for argument.
While the points that Mark Twain makes in his essay are for all intents and purposes true, and he conveys his beliefs in a very effective manner, the essay as a whole is not a successful argument, largely because he primarily uses only one of the three main means of persuasion. Twain provides facts throughout his essay that are generally hard to argue with in regards to the bad things that humans are capable of that animals are not, but does not use emotion to trigger a response from the reader. This could be by design because of his use of heavy satire, and the fact that this was written in a scientific manner rather, which generally are written to not contain the author's emotions.
There is a clear lack of ethical appeal, or ethos, in Twain's essay because of the fact that he is writing this in an official scientific capacity, though he is clearly not a scientist. He also does not provide information that may contradict his beliefs, which prohibits the reader from gathering opposing views of the story. Twain could have easily provided facts and arguments that point out the good things that human beings are capable of that animals are not, such as charities, social welfare programs, and medical care. With that said, The Damned Human Race is an essay containing heavy satire, something that Twain makes apparent almost immediately by stating "I have not guessed or speculated or conjectured, but have used what is commonly called the scientific method” (Twain). By the time that this essay was published in 1905, Twain was an established as a well-known author, known for his humor and famous works rather than scientific prowess. Also, at this point in his life, Twain was also very open about his overall disdain for the human race in general, perhaps due to circumstances regarding his family and life experiences, though it has been debated that Twain had no more of a troubled life than most normal people (Byrne 19). All of these things prohibit his essay from being considered a legitimate argument, and points to it being more a rant by the author, however effective it may be.
While Mark Twain provides many solid facts about the human race that are true and should be noted by the reader, the heavy doses of clear bias and satire overwhelm any legitimacy the essay could possibly carry. It is also difficult to ignore the cynicism throughout the piece, even in the last line when Twain is describing the human races declension from animals, stating, "Below us, nothing” (Twain).
Byrne, William F. "Realism, Romanticism, and Politics in Mark Twain." Humanitas 12.
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