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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 52


This is the grave of Mark Twain.


I don’t think I need to give a biography of Samuel Clemens, i.e,, Mark Twain. Twain may or may not be American’s greatest fiction writer. It my somewhat limited surveying of literature professors, they somewhat tend to look down on him a bit in comparison to Melville or Faulkner. And maybe those writers were more sophisticated in their literary merit. But I do think Twain was an amazing seer into the American condition of the 19th century, a condition that was basically Trumpism running out of control in terms of open racism, the prioritizing of idiocy over knowledge, and the raw, uncouth nature of the nation’s white people. In other words, Andrew Jackson’s America. Sure, the end of Huckleberry Finn is a disaster when that frat boy Tom Sawyer (I think it was Philip Roth who called Sawyer “America’s first frat boy” or something like that in The Great American Novel). But the first 2/3 is the most cutting satire into what it meant to be an American written at that time. Some of the early humor pieces don’t quite age that well. And he got really maudlin at the end of life and wrote some sappy stuff around then too. But whatever. Puddin’head Wilson is fantastic on both race and 19th century white society. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court ages really well. And Life on the Mississippi is a wonderful work.

And hell, he coined the term Gilded Age. Plus he was pro-union, once giving a speech to a group of Knights of Labor that said, “Who are the oppressors? The few: the King, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.”

Who can’t like that other than capitalists? The fact that maintained a healthy skepticism of capitalism at a time when even his hero Ulysses S. Grant was getting personally fleeced by every scam he could also makes him a special seer of his time.

Mark Twain is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York.

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