Mark Twain: Author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

You're probably familiar with Mark Twain as the prolific author of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Beyond the books he's written, how much do you really know about him? This lesson explores the life of Mark Twain.

The Man Behind the Book

Few writers are as iconic or well-loved as Mark Twain, author of American classics like Roughing It, The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One of the reasons that Mark Twain is such an engaging author is because he includes a bit of himself in his writing. Much of what Twain writes about comes from his personal experiences growing up during the mid-1800s.

Early Life

Mark Twain was born on Nov. 30, 1835, in the small town of Florida, Missouri. But ''Mark Twain'' was his pen name, not his actual name. He was known by family and friends as Sam, short for Samuel Longhorn Clemens.

Clemens' family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, when he was just four years old. This proved to be a formative event in his life because it placed him right on the banks of the Mississippi River, which would become an important aspect of his classic work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Another childhood experience that would influence his work was his exposure to slavery. Both his father and uncle owned slaves in Missouri. As a result, Clemens spent much of his childhood playing around slaves' quarters, giving him an invaluable chance to learn, listen, and observe.

In 1857, Clemens embarked on a short career as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. His dream of navigating the muddy Mississippi was cut short in 1861 when the Civil War divided the country in half. Clemens joined the Confederate Army but abandoned within a few weeks. Unable to pilot riverboats, he headed out West and landed in Nevada in search of adventure, and of course, fortune. Although he was unlucky as a silver prospector in the Nevada Territory, he proved to be a pretty good writer. When working on the river, he commonly heard the phrase mark twain being uttered by riverboat men. This phrase means that the water is at least 12 fathoms (2 feet) deep and is safe enough for a boat to go through. It was at a local Nevada newspaper that he first debuted his pen name ''Mark Twain.''

Picture of Mark Twain taken in 1871
Mark Twain 1871

Writing Career

Throughout the 1860s, Clemens wrote for various newspapers and began to make a name for himself as an author. In 1870, he married Olivia Langdon and one year later the couple moved to Hartford, Connecticut. While living in Connecticut, Clemens penned some of his most significant novels, including Roughing It, The Gilded Age, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In his writing, he often took a biting and sarcastic view of the world around him.

Nevertheless, during the late 1880s and into the 1890s, Clemens faced financial ruin. His publishing company went under and he made a number of poor investments. He was forced to move his family from Hartford, Connecticut, and embark on an international tour that lasted nearly a decade.Clemens continued to write until he passed away, in 1910 at the age of 74.

The Author and the Book

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn mirrors a great deal of Clemens himself. Life along the Mississippi River inspired numerous adventures for Clemens, both real and imaginary. Though Huck does not venture West to Nevada, Clemens' general spirit of adventure is captured by his title character.

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