Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World

Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World

Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World

Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World

Excerpt

Humor is man's most precious defense, whether against the encroachments of a fearsome world, or against the inner horrors of guilt and despair. Most people, even whole nations, pride themselves on their "sense of humor," and a veritable sixth sense it well may be. As a guide through the labyrinth, this sense may fail to keep one from going astray, but it does offer brave protection against the crushing feeling of calamity brought on by an awareness of the false steps. It enables one to pierce the gloom of popular scorn, to attain fresh perspectives on unfortunate experience. It is the sense that shows man how small he is beneath the stars, and yet enables him to smile forgivingly at his own littleness.

Critics have long been taught to take humor seriously, so Mark Twain's position at the forefront of America's literary consciousness is a logical one. Modern Americans still laugh at what tickles them, and are still susceptible to the tantalizing quill of America's greatest humorist. Moreover, they know that laughter, like all behavior, is meaningful, and they are, in this age of Freud, impatient in their need to understand themselves, their neighbors, their world, and their universe. To Mark Twain, humor-originally, perhaps, an end in itself-became a tool, a technique, for the artist; it became a means to a variety of ends which have in common . . .

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