Mark Twain the Two Institutions That Mark Thesis

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Mark Twain

The two institutions that Mark Twain attacks and ridicules in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- that will be critiqued in this paper -- are religion and government. There are multiple examples of Twain's brilliant use of his narrative and dialogue to illustrate how he really feels about religion and about government. The novel that Twain produced has been used in schools all over the United States because of the many themes that embrace social realities in the 19th century, but his use of irony, parody, satire and even silliness had important impacts on the novel and on his legacy as one of the great authors in American history. Thesis: Through his characters and his dialogue, there is no doubt that Mark Twain was editorially lampooning and outright attacking the institutions of religion and government in 19th century America; this was both intentional and editorially important to the theme, and this paper points to specific examples in the novel to back up this assertion.

The Ridicule of Religion in Huckleberry Finn

Twain expertly uses his characters as foils for his own personal skepticism about the various religious institutions that were in existence at the time he wrote the novel. On page 199 for example when the character Boggs was shot and killed, the citizens took the gravely injured Boggs into a drug store. That in itself was an interesting irony -- as though drugs of some kind might have been able to save Boggs. But after Boggs was brought into the drug store and people were peering into the store through the front window, "They laid him on the floor and put one large Bible under his head, and opened another one and spread it on his breast" (199).

They had torn open his shirt and the bullet hole was visible, so clearly Boggs was in mortal danger. When Boggs made "…a dozen long gasps" those breaths he took lifted the Bible up while drawing the desperate breath, and the Bible was let down when the breath was released.

The up and down motion of the Bible in this scene is open of course for interpretation, but it served virtually no purpose other than to give the reader a vision of blood on the Word of God. "After that, he laid still; he was dead," Twain wrote on page 199. The implication in this passage could be that you can place a Bible on a wounded person but it can't save him.
Meanwhile, author Barbara Grols-Langenhoff writes (in Social Criticism in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) about the "hypocrisy of Christian society" that is so prevalent in the book. Widow Douglas, and Miss Watson are members of a group that attends church regularly and they are as convinced in their belief about being good Christians they are about "the legitimacy of selling slaves," which is Twain's way of pointing to the hypocrisy of Christianity. Because they pray together with the slaves that they had locked up and put in chains -- and in some cases they had "snatched from their families -- the women seem to believe that they are "good-hearted," which Twain presents in an understatement tone that is very effective (Grols-Langenhoff, p. 7). .

Moreover, Twain uses Huck's quote regarding the mealtime prayer to show how out of touch with Huck's world these adult women had become. To wit, the prayers were said in a "half-hearted" way, Grols-Langenhoff writes, and Huck had to "…wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals" (p. 11). The "grumble" in this case was the prayer spoken softly by the widow, and clearly Twain is making fun of this half-hearted prayer of thanksgiving for the food they were about to eat.

Juxtaposed with the widow's seemingly insincere but quiet "grumbling" prayer was the crowd that had gathered for the Pokeville camp-meeting; they were "just crazy and wild" in their response to the preacher's rantings (Twain, 132). The preacher was yelling, "It's the brazen serpent in the wilderness! Look upon it and live" (Twain, 132). People were groaning, shouting and crying; Grols-Langenhoff referred to as "excessive sentimentalism" (p. 11).

One doesn't have to read very far into Twain's book to get the message that he was very cynical and cryptic about religion -- and Twain made his point, as mentioned in….....

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