I will be analyzing the figurative language Mark Twain used in “Two Views of the Mississippi” in the essay that follows.
Mark Twain’s life was filled with many different things. Mark Twain worked as a writer, miner, newspaper apprentice and steamboat pilot along the Mississippi. The Mississippi River lost its allure after Twain learned to navigate it. Its once stunning features no longer seemed so appealing. Twain began to focus on the dangers of the river instead of its wonders.
Twain, in his writings, recalls the moment he first saw a sunset while a budding steamboat pilot. Illustrating the sun reflections, the gentle waves, and how the sky was changing, Twain explained that after becoming an experienced pilot, sunsets would indicate incoming winds. He reduced the beauty of the river to a series of obstacles.
In this excerpt, Twain’s main point is that there are both gains and losses in learning. Understanding something’s function can help you to better manipulate it. This new understanding removes the mystery of what you were doing before. It’s not mysterious or intriguing anymore, but rather technical and concise. It is human nature to wrap things in a shroud or magic when we do not understand them. This is how many cultures and traditions were born. You can, for example:
“Wow, that big rock sure is loud! Perhaps we could throw in some human sacrifices?
I addressed cultures that did not understand the natural phenomena they were experiencing, like earthquakes and volcanoes. These cultures had attributed these events to the gods being angry and thought it was best to appease them. Natural disasters are something we call them today, but others thought they were more mysterious and astounding.
Mark Twain’s piece begins with a description the Mississippi River. Twain uses epithets like “graceful contours, reflected image, woody elevations, soft distants” to describe the river. Readers can visualize the Mississippi River’s beauty with the vivid images and epithets. Mark Twain seems to be a casual observer in this line. He is not affected by the dangers that lie beneath the mesmerising scenery.
Twain demonstrates his familiarity with the Mississippi River by using simile. His line “Now that I’d mastered the language this water spoke and knew every tiny feature that bordered it as intimately as I know the letters in the alphabet” is a good example. Twain is using the simile to emphasize that the view of the Mississippi River was one that he was particularly familiar with. He says, “Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet”.
Twain then repeats, “But I also had lost something.” I had something …”. Mark Twain’s repeated phrase “I have lost something” makes it clear that whatever he is referring to must be important enough for him to repeat. Mark Twain’s “loss” is that he was ignorant of the ugly side of the river. What a strange statement to make after describing just how intimately he was familiar with the Mississippi.
Mark Twain discusses the duplicity and two-facedness of the river. The surface is one face, but what’s underneath it is another. To show this, he uses metaphors, imagery, and even the description of the blood color to personify the river.
“A wide expanse was reddened by the river; at a distance, the color changed to gold. A solitary black log floated through the water. At one point, there was a sparkling mark on the surface of the water.
This passage uses metaphors, imagery and personification to create a vivid mental image of what the river looks like from a normal person’s viewpoint.
A passage in the second paragraph is particularly interesting: “I drank in, speechless in rapture.” Twain compares his admiration of a river with drinking by using metaphor. Imagine someone drinking their favorite type of alcohol. Inebriation distorts perception and dulls senses. Twain shows the reader that the beauty of the river isn’t as captivating as it appears. The stream or a floating log could cause a boat to crash, and if someone falls in, they could drown.
Mark Twain’s Two Views of the Mississippi is full of allegory, which is a way to express broader ideas based on the description of the Mississippi. He describes the river in detail, stressing its beauty and power. Any passerby will notice this superficial view. Mark Twain’s goal is to encourage readers to think beyond the surface. He does this by using metaphors, similes and personifications.
Twain compares people’s duplicity to the river, comparing it with its ambidextrousness. The line:
A doctor might interpret the beautiful flush on a girl’s cheeks as a ‘break’ that is a ripple above a deadly disease. “the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek means to a doctor but a?break?
Mark Twain’s point is that something most people would consider beautiful, like a woman’s blush, could actually be a far more dangerous thing, like a disease. This can only be detected and identified by those who have the experience. The captain of a steamboat may be able to see the storm coming, but the passenger sees a beautiful sunset.
Then, the rhetorical questions begin.
“Aren’t her hidden charms and signs sown into all that she is? Is he able to see her beauty, or does he just look at her as a professional and only comment on her unwholesome conditions? Doesn’t he wonder how much he has learned by becoming a professional?
This last line is particularly striking, because it raises the question: “is ignorance bliss?” If someone remained ignorant to the dangers, would they have enjoyed the pleasantries of this world more? Do you feel more secure knowing what dangers you might face if you’re aware of them? Twain’s readers were likely to be prompted to think about this question by Twain. We can ask questions we would rather avoid and keep answers to ourselves.
Mark Twain’s Two Views of the Mississippi forces the reader to confront the truth of knowledge. It encourages us to be critical, to see beyond the surface and to dig deeper to find the truth. Mark Twain interpreted the river as a metaphor for both life and himself. A dazzling facade which often conceals unpleasant things. He encourages the reader to see beyond the surface, to not only accept the truth underneath but also to acknowledge it. The steamboat may sink if the log is ignored.