Mark Twain And Carol Sandburg
There have been a number of influences that have shaped American literature. From the time that Western Europeans founded the country to the inclusion of Native American lore to the contributions of such literary giants as Mark Twain and Carol Sandburg, the composition of American Literature has been both constant and ever changing. In deed as much as America, itself, is a melting pot of diversity within a cultural concern, so too is this considerable diversity a significant aspect of its emerging literature.
Grantland S. Rice, author of The Transformation of Authorship in America, contends that the ultimate composition of American literature is fundamentally based upon a combination of efforts involving gender, class, period and application. What is particualy, interesting about Rice’s observations is the manner in which he applies his theories to literary considerations. According to Rice, there were a great many influences that constructed American literature up through modern times; as much as writers were “increasingly forced by social, political and economic changes” (Rice 159), it was because of these modifications that the literary experience gained in substance. In their attempts to uphold civic virtue, early writers “no doubt turned to the audience through whom they
felt they could still effect significant cultural changes” (Rice 159). It is this very determination and knowledge of craft that eventually aided in the efforts of countless writers -- both men and women -- to establish American literature as it has come to be known:
The story I till here is thus far from the usual
one of the ‘progress’ or ‘rise’ of American
literature, an account which has come from an
almost exclusive on the continuity of literary
forms and the influence of the aesthetic heritage
of Romanticism. (Rice 12)
Inasmuch as Rice attributes life’s influences as an integral component of American literature, so too does one of America’s greatest authors: Mark Twain. His Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, thought to be too racy for its own period, has always been received with mixed acceptance even in contemporary times. Capturing the American soul at its utmost depths, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn touches upon a number of unprecedented issues because of the shock value such a book portrays, it has been both embraced and banned for its content. However, it is this very content that has made it one of the most essential aspects of American
Literature, as Twain was not afraid to depict America without rose-colored glasses. It has been called offensive, unpatriotic, racist and a whole host of other uncomplimentary terms; however, it has been – and continues to be – instrumental in describing the sometimes unsavory truth, As the author so eloquently stated to America: “This is how you are, like it or not” (Smith).
As difficult as it has been for Americans to accept the fact that Twain’s account mirrors a harsh reality, the implications of such social atrocities as racism are painfully clear both in written representation as will as in real life. In fact, it can be argued that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn not only symbolizes what it means to be part of the American literary framework, but it also exemplifies the manner in which art truly imitates life.
As essential as Twain was in establishing the very basis of American literature, he was also instrumental in addressing issues which were – and are still – considered to be beyond the realm of acceptance. Although Adventures of Huckleberry Finn makes free use of the word nigger, it is not utilized in the same context it is today; by comparison, the author meant it only as a
description, as opposed to contemporary usage that focuses solely upon the words disgracing aspect.
Inasmuch as Mark Twain weaved his literary magic in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to depict American truisms, Carl Sandburg was just as much a fundamental part of the same patchwork. Sandburg’s writing addresses many of the same concepts as does Twain’s with regard to the human condition, even encouraging people to recognize themselves within his prose. Characteristic of Sandburg’s style is his approach to everyday existence as though it were a matter of life and death. In a way it was just that, as the astute author wrote of