My spouse and I finished the Mark Twain course we have been taking through Baylor continuing education, sponsored by the Alumni Association. The course was great and we learned a lot about Mark Twain. Twain became pretty irreverent and caustic in his old age and I have always wondered if he became so disgusted with Christianity, and the people who claim to be Christians, that he became an atheist. Our teacher, who is a Twain scholar, said that no one really knows the answer but he thinks that Twain was a Christian and continued to study the Bible and theology until the end of his life. Mark Twain simply had the same questions about religion that any thinking person has. Twain hated hypocrisy and was critical of the behavior of many, so called, Christians. He was also troubled about the inconsistencies in the Bible and how a loving God could apparently be so harsh. Twain was especially critical of Mormons, Catholics, and Christian Scientist.
Mark Twain’s greatest works were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The setting for these books was his small hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. He felt that the real character of an individual is best revealed in a small town and these folks are more interesting to write about. City folks have a crust masking their character and are less interesting. They are more difficult to know inside and out. City people also seem less aware of what’s going on out of their very restricted area. I sure agree with all that because the most interesting characters I have know are small town people.
In our last session of the class today, we read a letter Mark Twain wrote to his wife. In the letter he talked about the various characters he had observed in church. He was constantly observing human nature in every setting and recorded what he saw in great stories. He was also a master of transcribing the dialects of his time onto paper. Our teacher said he talked and talked as he wrote and this enabled him to get the dialect just right for the printed word and for the reader to enjoy.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “all of American literature starts with the book Huckleberry Finn.” Mark Twain’s work is certainly the best literature I have for my porch reading. It gives me great insight into many things but most of all it makes me happy and laugh a lot.