Mark Twain Short Stories: List & Summaries

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Sure, you know Mark Twain for his tales of adventure and mischief with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but have you ever explored the author's short stories? In this lesson, we'll take a look at a few of the many.

The Mark Twain You Don't Know

Most people recognize popular American author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for his wildly popular The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But, did you know that Twain was also a master of the short story? Short stories use only a handful of characters, but use a fully developed plot, albeit it in a more condensed format.

Let's use this lesson to get acquainted with Twain's myriad short tales. You may just find a new favorite!

Twain's Short Stories

Throughout his writing career, Twain crafted numerous short stories, ranging in topic from frontier humor to his travels abroad, to blue jays, frogs, and dogs. Here's an assortment of some of Twain's best-known, and loved, short tales.

1. ''The Five Boons Of Life'': This short tale is much like a fable, detailing the interactions between a man and a fairy. The fairy, like a genie in a bottle, has offered the man one of five choices: fame, love, riches, pleasure, and death. Throughout the story, we learn about the man's choices and priorities, and learn about the importance of making smart decisions and living a full life.

2. ''Luck'': Have you ever known someone who stumbled through life, but managed to be successful, thanks to a little thing called luck? That's the premise of this story about a military hero who leads his troops to success almost totally by accident. Some people believe Twain based this story on a real-life military man.

4. ''What Stumped the Blue Jays'': Blue jays that can act, think, and talk like humans? Preposterous! The action of the story for the blue jays surrounds some disappearing acorns, which is a pretty big deal in the bird universe. It is a funny, light-hearted read.

5. ''Edward Mills And George Benton: A Tale'': This is a story of a good boy (Edward) and a bad one (George), and the difference in the attention paid to George's negative behaviors over Edward's excellent ones. But, what happens when the good egg has to take his prodigal brother under his wing? Trouble and heartache.

6. ''The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County'': Perhaps one of Twain's most famous short works, this story explains how an infamous gambler finds himself on the wrong end of a swindle. Jim decides to bet the wrong person on the jumping prowess of the trained frog, but the stranger finds a way to spin the win in his own favor, by weighing the frog down with buckshot.

7. ''The Californian's Tale'': Henry is waiting for his wife's return, yet is unaware that she's been missing for nearly 20 years. Every year on the anniversary of her disappearance, Henry's friends help Henry cope with his heartbreaking loss.

8. ''Extracts From Adam's Diary'': Have you ever wondered how Adam felt about the woman, Eve, who showed up in the Garden of Eden? This book is like reading about Adam's new world in his own words.

9. ''A Dog's Tale'': Man's best friend has written a book! Well, not really, but Twain uses a dog to narrate this story about a pet's devotion to her owner, even when that owner may not be very nice. The dog rescues the owner's child from a fire, but the owner kills her puppy in a science experiment.

10. ''The Private History of a Campaign that Failed'': If there's a way to add a drop of humor to war, Twain was the man to do it. In this tale, he follows a band of reluctant, 14-year-old boys who have been recruited into war. They spend most of the time goofing off, until they kill someone across enemy lines. The seriousness of war finally hits them.

11. ''Eve's Diary'': Adam had a shot to tell his story, so why not Eve? This ''diary'' is a first-person account of her early days on Earth, complete with touching tales about meeting Adam for the first time and exploring her new home.

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