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Mark Twain

November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910

“I am not an American; I am the American.” – Mark Twain

There is probably no other individual who better epitomized the American experience than Mark Twain. While Norman Rockwell, in the 20th century, captured through his paintings the visual and simple essence of Americana, Mark Twain used, in the 19th century, his pen and paper to bring the ordinary experience of American life to the readers and make that experience extraordinary. Twain straddled the many corners of life in this country and was able to make his characters and their experiences familiar to most of his readers. His life experiences make him unique: He was born in the South and died in the North; he came from a slave-owning family and married an abolitionist’s daughter; his family struggled for many of their basic necessities and much of his later life was spent very comfortably; his obscure roots in Missouri were later complimented by his socializing with industry’s elite and Europe’s royalty. It was like the rapscallion of Dixie had become the bon vivant and toast of upper society. And even though Twain lived the Yankee lifestyle in Connecticut, the rural South was always a innate characteristic of the man. His ability to relate and to write for the everyday American made him one of the first popular authors in the United States. While many American writers styled their work after the European ideal, Twain wrote in such a way as to make his writings distinctly a part of the culture. His ability to put some of his controversial viewpoints into a humorous dialogue made those viewpoints more palatable to his reading audience. He could write his condemnations against the injustices of slavery, the greed of the robber barons, the hypocrisy of the church and Theodore Roosevelt’s push for imperialism in such a way that his audience could understand his views on these subjects. His writings could shine a light on the underbelly of history and his written words made the American style of speech something to be admired in the world of literature. And this self-taught genius of words would become known as the “Voice of the American People.”

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