Monday, February 23, 2015

Say Hello to Mark Twain ~ and 3 Reasons We’re Not Reading Huckleberry Finn {High School Literature Curriculum Series}

{If you’re new here, you may want to start with my post Creating a High School Literature Curriculum ~ Post by Post and follow it up with Why Study the Classics of Literature? Welcome!}

Say hello to our next author ~ Mark Twain. Did you know his real name was Samuel Clemens?

On November 30, 1835, when Halley's Comet was in the sky, Samuel Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. When he was four, he and his family of nine moved to Hannibal, Missouri. In 1865, after having been a printer's apprentice, a failed silver prospector, and a writer for local papers {among many other jobs!}, his short story, "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog," was published.

Samuel Clemens married Olivia Langdon in 1870. In 1871, he and his family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he later wrote some of his most famous books. This is where he wrote Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Sam and Olivia had four children in their marriage, but only one, a daughter, outlived them. Imagine the heartbreak!

Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, died on April 21, 1910, when Halley's Comet was once again in the sky. Anyone else have goosebumps? J

And the burning question…. Why "Mark Twain"? Mark twain is actually a term Sam picked up as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi. Water depth is vitally important for a riverboat. The name Sam Clemens chose as his nom de plume, "Mark Twain," is a term meaning that the water measures two fathoms, or twelve feet, in depth. Mark means measure, and twain means two. Mark twain is a safe depth of water for a riverboat.

So now, why not Huckleberry Finn?

I want my children to study, and I want to study, something of Mark Twain. He is a pillar of American Literature, and at the beginning of this series, I even made a little image of a quote of his.

I understand that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are classics, but for the life of me, I cannot get through them. I read both when I was in high school and didn’t particularly enjoy them then, but I couldn’t recall why.

Now I know why.

  1. I cannot get past the butchering of the English language by Huckleberry Finn. I understand that he is a poorly educated boy, and Mark Twain has done a spectacular job writing that in first person. But I love good grammar, and I cannot read 300+ pages of that.
  2. I also understand that that lifestyle used to happen, and does, in fact, continue to happen, for too many young boys. But I’m crying through the whole thing, reading of an alcoholic father who beats his son and locks him in the cabin. Huckleberry Finn needs prayer!
  3. That much disobedience and disrespect and wastefulness of opportunity makes me want to pull my hair out. I like a book where the characters grow and change and become better people.

For these reasons, I’m switching to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. {affiliate link}

I’m more than halfway through, and I can’t say I love every bit of it. But it’s better, and many parts are quite compelling. Knights and the round table and everyone saying forsooth and perchance. It certainly provides plenty of fodder for meaty discussion questions. J

I’ve altered the book list image accordingly, and I pray you understand the changes. See you next week with discussion questions.

For additional reading about Mark Twain ~

Mark Twain House

Mark Twain Museum

Have you read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? What did you think?

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  1. I've read A Connecticut Yankee three times in undergraduate school for three different classes. One was for my Freshman writing class, an American lit class, and finally, an Arthurian literature class. The last one was one of my favorite classes taken as an undergraduate. My favorite was Native American literature. Anyway, I wrote an essay describing the difference between Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain. It was interesting. Good luck!

  2. I understand. There are many contemporary novels that i have a hard time reading because of grammar. Hunger Games comes to mind. What are your thoughts on the revelation of the truths behind the Laura Ingalls series? Does it make you not want to read them now that you know the truth? I never knew the history behind the stories (i.e. her pa was a drunkard, etc., etc.). I grew up reading these books and absolutely loving them. As a mom, what is your opinion abotu them.. and about letting your kids read them? Have you, will you reveal the true history behind them or do you consider it something that can wait until they are older? I'm just curious. I'm thinking I could have gone my whole life without knowing everything.


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