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Mark Twain’s Views of the Ethnic Groups

Abstract: Mark Twain,an outstanding American writer in 19th century, was commonly considered a great humanist. His attitude toward the Indians was impersonal and just and he expressed moral support to their unfair experiences. But, we could also see that the author would show, intentionally or unconsciously, the superiority complex of his race and his culture when he described the images of the colored people. Through a panoramic summarization and analysis of the colored ethnic group images in Mark Twain’s texts by the way of neo-historical criticism, on the one hand, we could reevaluate the historical and cultural status of Mark Twain, on the other hand, the association of the studying of Mark Twain’s texts and neo-historical criticism also makes this critical way of more extraordinary meaning.
Key Words: Mark Twain; superiority; the colored ethnic images; neo-historical criticism


摘  要:马克·吐温是十九世纪美国杰出的现实主义作家,被公认为伟大的人道主义者。在很多情况下,他对有色人种所持的态度比较客观公正,对他们所受的不公正待遇予以道义上的声援。但是我们同样看到作家在描写和塑造印第安人形象时会有意或无意地流露出白人种族的优越意识和文化优越感。通过运用新历史主义批评方法对马克·吐温文本中的有色族群形象进行全景式的概览和分析,一方面我们可以对马克·吐温的历史文化地位进行重新评估和定位,另一方面,马克·吐温文本的研究与新历史主义批评的结合也使得这一批评方式更具非凡的意义。
关键词:马克·吐温; 优越感; 有色人种; 新历史主义

Introduction    1
1. Background    2
1.1 A Brief Review of Studies on Mark Twain’s Two Adventures    2
1.2 The Theoretical Basis, Framework, Methods and Significance of the Thesis    4
1.2.1The Theoretical Basis    4
1.2.2 The Framework and Methods    4
1.2.3 The Significance    5
2.Neo-Historical Criticism and Mark Twain’s Texts    5
2.1 The Concept of The Neo-Historical Criticism    6
2.2 Different Histories Constructed in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn    6
2.2.1 History Constructed by Readers of Mark Twain’s Times    6
2.2.2 Histories Constructed by Modern Readers    7
2.3 Different Histories Constructed in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer    8
2.3.1 History Constructed by Readers of Mark Twain’s Times    8
2.3.2 Histories Constructed by Modern Readers    8
3. The Status of the Ethnic Groups in American Society    9
3.1 The Images in Mark Twain’s Texts    9
3.1.1 The Image of Jim    9
3.1.2 The Image of Huck Finn    10
3.1.3 The Image of Tom Sawyer    11
3.2 The Slavery in Mark Twain’s Texts    12
3.3 Huck and Mark Twain's Racist Roots    13
3.4 Mark Twain’s Illogicality of His Mind    13
4. Conclusion    15
Bibliography    17

Mark Twain, considered American greatest writer, is far more than a humorist. After the Civil War, he served as America’s conscience on ethnic and racial issues. Twain defended Jews, African-American and Indian against prejudice. There is no doubt that William Faulkner called him as “the father of American literature”, and Howells considered him as “the Lincoln of American literature”. He enjoys a worldwide popularity with his various works including novels, travel narratives, short stories,sketches, and essays. His popularity is attested by the fact that more than a score of his books remain in Print and translations are still read around the world.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) are the most famous books. The subject matter and style of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are deemed “coarse” and “common”. Both books tell tales of the adventures of poor boys in the rough frontier towns along the Mississippi River. They reject the moralism of the contemporary Sunday school stories, and they are written largely in dialect, with a liberal sprinkling of swear words and slang. In an era when steps towards racial equality are being dismantled, the elite hate Huckleberry Finn especially because the white hero, Huck, escapes with a runaway slave, Jim, and they develop a close friendship. Huckleberry Finn has subsequently been condemned for its racism. Others think Adventures of Huckleberry Finn not as an attack on racism, but as inherently racist itself because it appalled by the novel's portrayal of the slave Jim and its repeated use of the word "nigger."
In these two Adventures,Mark Twain,with his skillful and exquisite writing techniques,portrays two outstanding children characters and  most readers remember Mark Twain as “the father of Huck Finn’s idyllic cruise through eternal boyhood and Tom Sawyer’s endless summer of freedom and adventure. And the two masterpieces are often simplified,limited and falling to the category of“boy stories”. A deep probing into the two adventures,however,will show that their greatness is far more than this.

1. Background

1.1 A Brief Review of Studies on Mark Twain’s Two Adventures
Studies on these two brilliant Adventures have been widely made by a large number of searchers and critics who are attracted by this American icon and his masterpieces. In the last few decades,with the translation and introduction of western critical theories, researchers try using new critical view points and methods to reread the two adventures, extensively as well as intensively, from varying angles. Deeper layers are examined: more meaningful elements are identified and fruitful results are being yielded.
Between the studies on these two works, however,there is some kind of unbalance,which can be summed up in two ways: on the one hand, the number of criticisms of The Adventures of Tom sawyer is much smaller than that of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; on the other hand, the artistic features, the use of humor and satire and the insights into humanity seem to be the furthest critics.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain is a novel about the adventures of a runaway slave whose name is Jim and a runaway boy whose name is Huck on a journey to freedom. Huck lies to help Jim and him escape to freedom while Tom Sawyer lies and makes up weird situations for fun. Huck and Jim travel up a river in search for the northern states which are the free states. The adventure basically revolves around Huck’s and Jim’s freedom.
One of the greatest lies Huck tells is when he lies to the two white men who are looking for runaway slaves to cash in for money. Huck tells the two white men that family are on the raft and that they have smallpox. Huck makes up the lie so the men won’t be suspicious and attempt to search the raft and find Jim. Meanwhile, Tom acts as if he is stuck in an old fairy tale and everything has to be done like it was done years before. In chapter 35, Tom brainstorms as many ideas as possible in order to make Jim into a real prisoner. Tom does it for fun.
It is impossible to read Huck Finn intelligently without understanding that Mark Twain's consciousness and awareness is larger than that of any of the characters in the novel, including Huck. Indeed, part of what makes the book so effective is the fact that Huck is too innocent and ignorant to understand what's wrong with his society and what's right about his own aggressive behavior. Twain, on the other hand, knows the score. One must be skeptical about most of what Huck says in order to hear what Twain is saying. Ralph Ellison suggests that critics who condemn Twain for the portrait of Jim that we get in the book forget that one also has to look at the teller of the tale, and realize that you are getting a black man, an adult, seen through the condescending eyes, partially, of a young white boy. That is to say those critics are making the same old mistake of confusing the narrator with the author. Clemens as a child accepted without question, as Huck did, the idea that slaves were property, however, the years in which Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, Twain's consciousness changed. By 1885, when the book was published, Samuel Clemens held views that were very different from those he ascribed to Huck. starting with some of his writings on the persecution of the Chinese in San Francisco, then moving through his marriage into an abolitionist family. Samuel Clemens had come to believe not only that slavery was a horrendous wrong, but that white Americans owed black Americans some form of reparation for it.
But, you can search through all of Twain's writings, not just the thirty-plus volumes of novels, stories, essays, and letters, but also his private correspondence, his posthumous autobiography and his intimate journals, and you'll be hard put to find a derogatory remark about the black race and this at a time when crude racial stereotypes were the basic coin of popular fiction, stage comedy, and popular songs.
What you find in Twain is the opposite: a lively affection and admiration for black Americans that began when he was still a boy and grew steadily through the years. For example, he wrenchingly evoked the pain of an ex-slave as she recalls being separated from her young son on the auction block, and her joy at discovering him in a black regiment at war's end.
And on those occasions when Twain does venture to compare the black and the white, the comparison is not conspicuously flattering to the whites. Things like: "One of my theories is that the hearts of men are about alike, all over the world, whatever their skin-complexions may be." "Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare." "There are many humorous things in the world; among them is the white man's notion that he is less savage than all the other savages."
1.2 The Theoretical Basis, Framework, Methods and Significance of the Thesis
1.2.1The Theoretical Basis
The development of criticism provides critics with a plentiful of theories and perspectives to assess Mark Twain and his two Adventures. My intention in this thesis is to employ the theory of neo-historical criticism to reread them. Although the past years witness a flourish of studies,few researchers in China have ever tried to analyze Mark Twain and the Adventures from this critical view point.
So with the theory of neo-historical criticism as its theoretical basis, this thesis rereads Mark Twain and the Adventures not only as material products of specific historical conditions,but also a texture of historical traces. In addition, the inter relationship of text and history is explored, with an emphasis on the literary masterpieces’ function as components of historical formations.