Luck by Mark Twain: Theme, Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Introduction to ''Luck''
  • 0:53 Theme of ''Luck''
  • 1:36 Summary of the Story
  • 3:15 Analysis of ''Luck''
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reed

Danielle works in digital marketing and advertising. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and an MBA.

In this lesson, we summarize the short story 'Luck' by Mark Twain. We also cover the theme of this tale, namely the theme of luck, and analyze the story for literary devices like irony.

Introduction to ''Luck''

Mark Twain might be known for his books The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but he was also a prolific writer of short stories, non-fiction, essays, and even letters. ''Luck'' is a short story written by Mark Twain in 1886 and published in Harper's Magazine in 1891. As you might guess, it's all about luck. In this story, our narrator attends a banquet in honor of a few military heroes. The narrator sits next to a clergyman he has met before, and the clergyman reveals that one of the honorees of the banquet, Lord Arthur Scoresby, is really just a product of luck.

There is speculation about the content of the story being based on a real person. Mark Twain admitted to hearing the story from a friend named Joe Twichell but never confirmed the identity of the soldier in the story.

Theme of ''Luck''

More than anything, the title of this story also emphasizes its theme. Lord Arthur Scoresby gets by on luck throughout his entire life, to the point it gets him far in his military career. We can define luck as a success or failure by random chance instead of effort. For example, it's by luck that someone wins the lottery, but it's through effort that a person earns a college degree.

The reader gets to know a character with a lifetime altered by positive luck. While some themes in literature tend to be more underlying or tougher to identify, this story by Mark Twain gives its theme right in its title. Luck is exposed as ironic, not favorable to those that deserve it, and random in its nature.

Summary of the Story

Our unnamed narrator attends a banquet in the honor of a military genius known for his bravery and intelligence during the Crimean War. Lord Arthur Scoresby is actually highly incompetent in his work but has managed to be esteemed in the military. The reader gets his story secondhand as a clergyman dictates the tale while he's sitting next to the narrator at the banquet.

Scoresby never did well while still a student and earned promotions through blunders. While Scoresby was in military school, the clergyman, who was his teacher at the time, found the young man didn't know any history other than a bit about Caesar. The man helped him study and ''by some strangely lucky accident - an accident not likely to happen twice in a century - he was asked no question outside of the narrow limits of his drill.''

After graduating, Scoresby went through a military career and moved up in the ranks all due to luck. The action of the story reaches its pinnacle when Lord Arthur finds himself fighting in a battle during the Crimean War. Scoresby got an order ''to fall back and support our right.'' Instead, he mixed up his right with his left, then went over a hill into the defensive and right into ''an entire and unsuspected Russian army in reserve. . . they turned tail, and away they went…'' With the wrong move, Scoresby was able to pull off ''the most tremendous rout you ever saw, and the defeat of the allies was turned into a sweeping and splendid victory!''

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