Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain Term Paper

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #30938661
  • Related Topic: Satire, Beloved, Monarchy

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Mysterious Stranger" by Mark Twain. The version often studied in colleges is a heavily edited version of Mark Twain's original writing. This paper will research the differences in the original writing and the edited version, including how his personal tragedies took a toll on Twain's mental health. The version edited by Paine/Duneka was an attempt to save Twain's public image. Was this because of his mental state? Did this mental state affect his writing of "The Mysterious Stranger?"


Mark Twain wrote "The Mysterious Stranger" at the end of his life, and near the conclusion of a long and renowned career. Known for his biting sarcasm and supreme wit, Twain was an American legend by the time this story was published in 1916, six years after his death. Immediately, it seems to deviate from his other works, for the subject is certainly dark and evil compared to his other books, such as "Mark Twain," and "Roughing It," where his wit and humor were the primary reasons the books sold so well. People were used to reading books from Twain that made them think, but made them laugh, but "The Mysterious Stranger" simply made most people uncomfortable. Perhaps the discomfort came because it hit too close to home for many readers, and they saw the absolute and ultimate hopelessness Twain portrays at the end of the book.

The book opens in 1590 in Eseldorf, Austria. Eseldorf is a peaceful community with its share of local scandals, like Peter the priest who is suspended for saying "that God was all goodness and would find a way to save all his poor human children."

In "The Mysterious Stranger" Mark Twain formulates his final diagnosis of the human condition. He also proposes a remedy. In answer to the narrator's claim that the human race possesses a sense of humor, Satan says that most people have only a "mongrel perception of humor," enabling them to:

see the comic side of a thousand low-grade and trivial things-broad incongruities, mainly... evokers of the horse-laugh. The ten thousand high-grade comicalities which exist in the world are sealed from their dull vision. Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of these juvenilities and laugh at them -- and by laughing at them destroy them? For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon -- laughter.... Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use that one?... No; you lack sense and the courage" (XXVII, 131-32).

At the beginning of the story, Twain calls Eseldorf a "paradise," and the meaning is clear - he intends to show the paradox that heaven also can create hell, and the two can easily exist side by side - indeed they exist in each of us every day. He is attempting to show his readers the folly of black and white, right and wrong, and the ultimate paradox of life. "Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered with schooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Christians; to revere the Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything."

Then Satan makes an appearance, and the people of Eseldorf find out what the devil really thinks of humanity. "Once he even said, in so many words, that our people down here were quite interesting to him, notwithstanding they were so dull and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so diseased and rickety, and such a shabby, poor, worthless lot all around."

People are of no value to the devil, and this heartless vision of humanity was so unlike Twain that speculation arose that he did not write the book, or was mad when he did.

In fact, the more one scans the later pages of Mark Twain's history the more one is forced to the conclusion that there was something gravely amiss with his inner life. There was that frequently noted fear of solitude, that dread of being alone with himself which made him, for example, beg for just one more game of billiards at 4 o'clock in the morning.

Was Twain really mentally unstable when he wrote "The Mysterious Stranger," or was he simply old, tired, and disillusioned? While his works garnered fame, his life was far from easy. He was called the "Lincoln of literature" during his lifetime, but he was not always financially successful and able to provide for his family as he thought he should. He made a fortune, lost it, and made another by hard work. By the time he wrote this piece, he had lost his wife, his beloved daughter Susy, and his younger brother. He seemed to welcome death even as he feared it. However, Twain wrote of anger and contempt within him, even when he was younger. "You observe,' wrote Mark Twain once, almost at the beginning of his career, 'that under a cheerful exterior I have got a spirit that is angry with me and gives me freely its contempt.' That spirit remained with him, grew in him, to the last."

It is this spirit of anger and contempt at himself, and at humanity that made his satire so keen and biting - he could always see the weakness of people and their beliefs. Therefore, it would seem Twain was not mad when he wrote "The Mysterious Stranger," but he was angry, bitter, and full of despair. In fact, many critics believe "Clemens' despair was not primarily personal, but had an objective basis in his observation of historical change in the world around him."

In this tale, Satan has a morbid contempt of the human race, and finds them worse than animals. It seems this is Twain's own thinking as he grew older, and Satan is simply an extension of his own bitterness at the perplexities of humans and their beliefs.

Had he seen the edited version of this story that appeared in 1916, he probably would have been even angrier, or perhaps he simply would have laughed at the outrageousness of the editing. Twain wrote at least four different versions of this story, and still had not finished it to his liking when he died.

Paine and Duneka heavily edited the first version Twain wrote and added a concluding chapter that Twain wrote as a projected ending for the third version. In the process, names and descriptions of characters were changed, parts of the manuscript that Paine and Duneka thought might offend readers were removed, and new text written by Paine was added to create transitions and smooth out rough edges as material was inserted or removed.

Still, Twain's voice comes through in the edited version. His contempt for monarchies, the sweat shops abusing workers, and the "Moral Sense" that gives people the unending view of "right vs. wrong" is clearly stated and experienced in the 1916 version.

In the original version, Twain goes into much greater detail about the people of the village, and the monarch who owns the castle overlooking the town and the people. He, along with the saints, is the only thing worth knowing, and worth dying for in this version, and the tale goes into much greater satiric detail about the foibles of humankind, and the devil's contempt for us all. It is much harsher than the edited version, and portrays Father Adolph as a vicious "loud and zealous" priest, much less sympathetic than the character in the edited version. The narrator is the central character in both versions, and is a representative of the "common" people of the times, and their beliefs.

The poker-faced narrator exists less and less to draw attention to a conflict between western and eastern experience, more and more to direct the reader's vision, through parody and burlesque, to some of the paradoxes of life in general. Life as it is, in turn, becomes other than it seems; values taken for granted are exploded; even self-evaluation must go by the board as self-delusion. Finally, society itself, and then the universe, become gigantic hoaxes, imposing themselves on credulous man only so long as he will accept them at face value.

Twain's bitterness and unhappiness are even more evident in the unedited version, and his utter contempt of organized religion is also apparent. His religious characters are really caricatures - from the "pious" Frau Marx who quickly repents when confronted by Father Adolph - to the Monarch, a false god, who the village was expected to "bleed" for. "In Twain's final phase, literature might almost be said to exist for the purpose not so much of communicating experience as of forcing the reader to an awareness of the discrepancy between what he thinks he is and what he in truth turns out to be."

In conclusion, "The Mysterious Stranger,' among other things, was in part an attempt to push through on an artistic level the rather obvious doctrine of determinism that Twain's intellect had laboriously put…

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