Saturday, January 24, 2015

That awful Mark Twain

Since I live in Germany and since I enjoy literature, it seems to be a no-brainer that I'd read about some of Mark Twain's experiences here and during his travels, right? After all, he wrote about The Awful German Language and captured, in quite a funny way, the mental knots one must tie oneself to properly speak German.

I thought I'd continue with his travel classic, The Innocents Abroad, and read about his adventures throughout Europe. I checked it out as an eAudiobook, dutifully transferred it to my USB, and plugged it into my car. I got through about an hour of it before abandoning that project in disgust.

Mark Twain is, as many put it, a product of his time. As the middle class developed and means of transportation improved, the idea of tourism and leisure travel grew. Twain capitalized on this idea and wrote about his trips so that armchair travelers could follow along and maybe even make the same journey themselves. This aspect of the time is not bad at all.

The part that bothers me about Mark Twain being a product of his time is that he is racist and bigoted, at least with a modern reading. Sure, at the time, the Americans and Europeans were kings of their domain and, in their minds at least, so much more "developed" and "sophisticated" than the indigenous people or racial minorities that they encountered, whether in their own communities or during travel.

Friends have told me that I shouldn't read Twain with a modern mindset; after all, he wrote more than a hundred years ago. At the time, he wasn't writing in a way that was unacceptable. I get that part. However, just as he was a product of his time, I am a product of my time, and I can't get past what I find is quite distasteful. Do I think that Twain should be banned? No, absolutely not. Will I choose not to finish reading his book? Absolutely. That is the glory and the power of freedom of press and freedom of will. I am thankful for both.

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