In the case of Mark Twain’s “Luck”, the one-word title actually has something to do with the story. The story leaves a lot of questions, though. A much-decorated military figure is being honored while a clergyman at the event explains to the narrator that the honoree is only where he is by sheer luck because he is actually a “fool”.
Who is the real “sham”? The acclaimed leader or the clergyman? And who does Twain consider the real “sham”? That’s the question I find intriguing but for which I find no real answer.
“The Professor’s Yarn” is another great Mark Twain title. The narrator is a professor but at the time of the story he is telling (that’s the “yarn” part) he is not a professor and the fact that he is a professor has nothing to do with the story.
The yarn itself has the not-yet professor on a ship to California. I’m not sure of his point of departure or whether he has been on a ship the entire trip or only the last part of it. But all of that doesn’t really matter as a new acquaintance with a lot of money gets involved with a group of gamblers. The narrator is concerned that his new friend will get too involved with “that confounded nest of rascality.”
Determining who cheats who makes the plot classic Twain and makes the reader want to keep on reading.
We were approaching Napoleon, Arkansas. So I began to think about my errand there. Time, noonday; and bright and sunny. This was bad – not best, anyway; for mine was not (preferably) a noonday kind of errand.
This no longer comes as a shock but Mark Twain’s short story “A Dying Man’s Confession” is a story within a story within a story.
We have murder and revenge, creepy morgue-like settings along with con-men and swindlers. I have to question Twain’s choice of titles from time to time but I love the brilliant understatement of this one.
While Twain doesn’t shy away from using ghosts and death in his stories usually they appear in a more satirical fashion. In parts of this story, it’s actually scary. He can give Poe and Hawthorne a run for their money.
The letter was a pure swindle, and that is the truth. And take it by and large, it was without a compeer among swindles. It was perfect, it was rounded, symmetrical, complete, colossal!
The themes in Mark Twain’s short story “The Burning Brand” are classic Mark Twain themes. I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for him to poke fun of ethics, morals and religion and in this story, he sets up a great situation to do this. However, it doesn’t come off as funny as some of his other stories.
A prisoner writes a letter telling in great detail of his religious conversion letting the recipients know all the ways in which he has changed. As the letter roams from church to church it causes great emotion and lots of tears at the thought of a wayward son returning to the flock. In the middle of the story, we are told that the letter is a fake. I think finding this out in the middle might be one of the reasons it’s not that funny. This revelation could be a great “shocker” at the end.
I’m also not sure of the significance of the title. Perhaps, I just passed over something while reading it. Twain’s titles are not always that descriptive of the story but I can’t figure this one out. Any thoughts, let me know!
Mark Twain’s “The Stolen White Elephant” is another story with a very concise plot. In fact, I would say most of Twain’s stories have plots that don’t ramble and are very focused – usually focused toward what I would call a punchline or the culmination of a comical event.
This story actually has a title that reflects the main point of the story (something I’ve found many of Twain’s stories do not do). A white elephant being delivered from the King of Siam to the Queen of England is stolen in New York. The gentlemen in charge of the elephant fears for his job as he reports the crime to New York detective Inspector Blunt.
The comedy comes from the bumbling actions of the Inspector and his team while the Inspector gives the impression that he is one of the sharpest detectives on the planet:
I am a ruined man and a wanderer on the earth – but my admiration for that man, whom I believe to be the greatest detective the world has ever produced, remains undimmed to this day, and will so remain unto the end.
It’s a fun story as most of Mark Twain’s stories are but I found it went on a little too long.
“The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm” is the third of Mark Twain’s McWilliamses stories that I’ve read and it’s also the funniest. Perhaps its because Mrs. McWilliams isn’t really in this story although she does have a role to play. She can be annoying not only to her husband but to readers as well.
In this story, the comedy comes from Mr. McWilliams taking the advice of his wife (there’s her role) to buy a burglar alarm for their new house:
I will explain that whenever I want a thing, and Mrs. McWilliams wants another thing, and we decide upon the thing that Mrs. McWilliams wants – as we always do – she calls that a compromise.
Given that this is 1882, the alarm itself is a giant gong hanging over the couples’ bed. Even by today’s standards, that has comedy written all over it.
In addition, the burglars seem to be attracted to the alarm. So much so, that a whole slew of them end up as guests in the house. The intelligent conversations Mr. McWilliams has with many of the burglars only adds to the fun!
Here are my posts for the other McWilliamses stories:
Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup
Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning
And the War Department! But, oh, my soul, let’s draw the curtain over that part!
Mark Twain’s “A Curious Experience” is one of the longer of his short stories (at least the ones I’ve read so far) at 25 pages. I’m not sure whether it’s suppose to be funny or not. He could definitely be satirizing the military but this story has a different tone to it than most of Twain’s satirical writing. The plot focuses more on what is unknown to the reader and the narrator making it into a mystery with a little satire.
A young boy claims to be a Union sympathizer when he asks to be signed up for the war in the 1860’s. As the story unfolds, the Sergeant becomes more and more convinced that the boy, based on his actions, is a spy.
The satire, if that’s what it is, comes as the boy is able to wreak havoc on the entire company simply by pretending to be someone out of his “dime-store” novels – perhaps the comic books of the 1860’s.
In spite of the story’s length, Twain is able to make the plot brilliantly concise. It never roams or rambles but always heads straight to what I would consider the punchline. However, then the punchline has to be explained which maybe is the reason the story doesn’t ring as funny.
Pretty soon it was plain that something had got to be done. I suggested cigars.
Comedy rule of thumb: Always let the reader know about the Limburger cheese.
In Mark Twain’s “The Invalid’s Story”, the narrator is accompanying his dead friend from Cleveland to Wisconsin via train. Apparently, in the 1880’s, one actually rode in the same car as the coffin.
Since the narrator is retelling the story and now knows about the Limburger cheese that a stranger left by the coffin, he kindly lets the reader know about it which allows the antics that ensue to be darkly comical as he mistakes the smell of the Limburger cheese for the smell of his dead friend.
This story would not have worked if the Limburger cheese had not been disclosed to the reader up front.
Because the smell of a dead body – well – its just not that funny.
There’s more to a bluejay than any other creature. He has got more moods, and more different kinds of feelings than other creatures; and, mind you, whatever a bluejay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book talk – and bristling with metaphor, too – just bristling!
Jim Baker can understand what animals say and relays his story to Mark Twain about an incident involving bluejays, acorns and a house.
In some ways, this story reminds me of a fable; however, the plot serves only to be humorous, delightful and absurd. The absurdity of the situation makes it most enjoyable.
Well, sir – continued Mr. McWilliams, for this was not the beginning of his talk – the fear of lightning is one of the most distressing infirmities a human being can be afflicted with.
After reading Mark Twain’s story “Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning”, I wondered if it would be considered a farce. Of course, I wasn’t sure of the exact definition of a farce so I looked it up on dictionary.com:
a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation rather than upon the development of character.
Mr. and Mrs. McWilliams are recurring characters in Twain’s stories where Mr. McWilliams, though irritated, gives in to the irrational fears of his wife. In the case of this story, Mrs. McWilliams has herself hidden in a closet during a lightning storm. Because the closet is only big enough for her, she yells out directions to her husband about how best to protect himself from the lightning – given that he can’t fit in the closet with her.
Ultimately, the situation builds and builds with one humorous act after another. It reminded me of an episode of I Love Lucy. I think most sitcoms could be considered farces – as well as this story.
Here’s my post about another McWilliams story, “Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup”.