Full Steam Ahead: Mark Twain’s Short Story, ‘Mark Twain: A Child’s Biography’

BY Kate Vidimos TIMEMarch 13, 2023 PRINT

The haphazard, changing nature of life can make it difficult to stay true to one’s self. But if we surrender to change, we sacrifice our chance to find our destiny. In his short story, “Mark Twain: A Child’s Biography,” Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens) shows how he stayed true to himself throughout all of life’s many changes. His steadfastness allowed him to become the man he was supposed to be.

Twain portrays the haphazard nature of his childhood by writing in a haphazard manner. What seem to be random, unimportant events turn out to be crucial moments that helped his growth.

Early Years

Samuel Clemens lived with his father, John Clemens, and his mother, Jane Clemens, in Florida, Missouri. Together, the couple had seven children. When he was young, little Samuel Clemens was not a strong boy and not many believed he would live long. But the little boy relished stories, especially the stories told by the slave, Jennie, and the black farmhand, Uncle Ned.

When Samuel was young, the Clemens family moved from Florida, Missouri, to Hannibal, Missouri. Despite the move and what everyone said, Samuel strengthened and plumped up.

Storytelling and a Dream

At age 5, he went to school, where he learned to be very successful in reading and spelling.

Samuel did not particularly like school; rather, he loved the river and spent many of his days by the riverside. He wanted to be a steamboat pilot, but his young age prevented him from fulfilling that dream.

At 12, Samuel was careless and mischievous, only excelling in spelling and composition at school. Nevertheless, he became famous for his funny stories, which left students and teachers laughing until they cried.

His teachers often encouraged Samuel to become a writer, but he did not like the idea. He would rather be on the river, for “it did not seem to him that there was anything so noble or desirable in this world as being a pilot.” He loved the river more than anything.

When his father died, Samuel learned the printer’s trade. He was a fast learner and started a newspaper with his brother.

True to Himself

At 18, Samuel declared to his mother that he wanted to go out into the world. Seeing he was determined, his mother consented, but she made him “swear that [he] would not throw a card or drink a drop of liquor while [he] was gone.”

Samuel stayed true to his promise and eventually fulfilled his life-long dream. He became a pilot on the Mississippi River and was never happier. Through this story, Twain shows, as William Shakespeare says in “Julius Caesar”: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Our destinies lie in wait for us, but in order to find them, we must stay true to ourselves and our morals. For if we abandon who we are and what we believe, we abandon the destiny that is tailored for our special characters.

We must battle life’s haphazard and confusing nature and ride full steam ahead against the current, riding the waves of destiny.

Kate Vidimos is a 2020 graduate from the liberal arts college at the University of Dallas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English. She plans on pursuing all forms of storytelling (specifically film) and is currently working on finishing and illustrating a children’s book.
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