Mark Twain the Riverboat Pilot Huckleberry Finn Term Paper

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Mark Twain, The Riverboat Pilot,

Huckleberry Finn

In his American classic Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain relates the adventures of Huck Finn and his companion Jim in such a way that the reader can sense that the story is based on true events, especially through characterization, setting and dialog. In essence, Twain has inserted himself into the novel via some very clever plot constructions and one of the best examples of this can be found in his descriptions of life on the Mississippi River as it relates to Huck Finn and Jim. However, Twain has also inserted his own experiences as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River into the story, a suggestion that can be supported via numerous extracts from the novel.

In his American classic Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain relates the adventures of Huck Finn and his companion Jim in such a way that the reader can sense that the story is based on true events, especially through characterization, setting and dialog. In essence, Twain has inserted himself into the novel via some very clever plot constructions and one of the best examples of this can be found in his descriptions of life on the Mississippi River as it relates to Huck Finn and Jim. However, Twain has also inserted his own experiences as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River into the story, a suggestion that can be supported via numerous extracts from the novel.

Biographically, Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. In 1840, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain was soon apprenticed to his brother Orion, the owner of a country newspaper called the Missouri Courier. In 1853, Twain decided to head for New York City as a journeyman printer, but soon left for Keokuk, Iowa, where his brother Orion was publishing another newspaper. In 1857, Twain became an apprentice pilot on the Mississippi River and remained in this position until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

During the Civil War, Twain served as a lieutenant in the Confederate Army but was quickly discharged because of undisclosed ailments. He then joined his brother Orion once again but this time in Nevada. Soon after, Twain tried his hand at being a prospector; when this failed, he became a reporter in Carson City, Nevada. By 1862, he was the city editor of the Virginia City Enterprise in which he first used the pseudonym of Mark Twain, "a depth call of the Mississippi pilots" (Kunitz 159). He then met Charles Farrar Browne who encouraged Twain to seek a literary career; some of his first stories were crude and full of tall stories and hoaxes.

In 1864, Twain went to San Francisco and joined the staff of the Morning Call. Soon after, his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was published in New York City which made him nationally famous. Following this success, Twain wrote Innocents Abroad and then married Olivia Langdon in 1870. Between 1871 and 1891, Twain published some of his best-known novels, such as Roughing It (1872), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and of course The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884. In 1904, Twain's wife Olivia died as did his daughter Jean in 1909. On April 21, 1910, Twain died at his home in Redding, Connecticut, leaving behind one of the greatest American literary legacies of the 19th century.

The years in which Mark Twain worked as a Mississippi riverboat pilot are some of the most interesting, for between 1857 and 1861, he experienced many adventures that would later aid him in the writing of several successful novels, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. According to Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, during this time of his life, Twain "became familiar with a world full of diversity and color. . . which was very nearly an epitome of the Unites States." This episode also "furnished him an epic theme" that was later found in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (193). However, Twain was not writing during these years but was more or less collecting material for future writing endeavors. In essence, "his year and a half of apprenticeship and his two and a half years as a licensed pilot brought him. . . no closer to authorship" (Johnson & Malone 193).

As pointed out by Fred Kaplan in The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography (2003), Twain spoke about his days as a riverboat pilot in 1895 and recalled that "Youth is a lovely thing, and certainly never was there a diviner time to me in this world" than as the time he spent upon the Mississippi River. Twain adds that "my life as a pilot. . .when I was young. . . that was the darling existence" (77). With this, it is clear that Twain's experiences as a riverboat pilot were precious to him and served him very well during his years as a celebrated writer and humorist.

In addition, Kaplan states that Twain spent much of his free time as a riverboat pilot studying the "aspects of the river landscape" which gave him "the living poetry of experience, the quirks and peculiarities. . .and the unexpected characteristics of people." According to Twain, these years on the river made it possible to become "personally. . . acquainted with. . . all the different types of human nature," and when he created a character for his fiction, he always took "a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before -- met him on the river" (78).

In late May of 1857, when he was learning the ins and outs of piloting the Mississippi River, Twain witnessed perhaps the most important event of his young life which later on served as inspiration for his fictional characters. In the city of New Orleans, Twain went on a sightseeing walk and observed "a display of people (with) their multi-toned voices. . . variety of skin tones, their diversity of languages." More importantly, this sightseeing tour "was a step toward his gradual transcendence of Missouri slave culture provincialism" (Kaplan 65-66), meaning that Twain slowly came to understand that slavery was immoral and inhuman which obviously influenced his decision to use the character of Jim, the runaway slave, as Hick Finn's loyal companion.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one can find numerous references to Twain's experiences as a riverboat pilot which he used to build the main plot of the novel. For example, in Chapter III, Twain describes the time when Huck's father was found drowned in the river -- "They judged it was him. . . said this drowned man was just his size, and was ragged, and had uncommon long hair. . . But they couldn't make nothing out of the face, because it had been in the water so long it warn't much like a face at all" (13). This is a very good description of a real drowned person which Twain most probably experienced at some time during his days as a riverboat pilot.

In Chapter V, Huck relates that an old man (his guardian) "drunk as a fiddler, rolled off the porch and broke his left arm" and that when his room was inspected, "they had to take soundings before they could navigate it" (23). This refers to sounding the river to determine its depth in order to make certain that a ship does not end up on a sandbar in the river. In Chapter VII, Huck, while aboard a ferry boat, goes up on deck and sees "Jackson's Island. . .downstream, heavy-timbered and standing up out of the middle of the river, big and dark and solid,…[continue]

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