Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain

On November 30, 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri.

I teach American literature to 11th graders and next week they will begin reading Huckleberry Finn. It's one of my favorite novels to teach, and Twain has become a favorite author as well. Each year I show the Ken Burns documentary on Twain. It takes all week to watch the three and a half hour film but is well worth the time. At one point in the film when Huckleberry Finn is discussed, a commentator makes the following comment, with which I have come to strongly agree.

I think that Huckleberry Finn is our Homeric epic. It stands to our literature as The Iliad and The Odyssey stand to Greek and European literature in some sense. We are as a people radically different, despite our common threads of history, from Europeans, and the elements that make us different are essentially two: race and space. And Twain’s work, more than any other writer before him and probably more than any other writer since, embraces those two facts and makes possible an American literature that otherwise was not possible.


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