Roughing It by Mark Twain: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

Mark Twain's ''Roughing It'' is a travel log, a semi-autobiographical book, and a humorous depiction of his experiences traveling west. It contains adventure intermingled with quotes showcasing Twain's observations and wit.

An Adventure

Mark Twain wrote Roughing It equipped with his traveling experiences, his brother's journal, and his imagination. Published in 1872, his book is based on his travels West from 1861-1866. In this lesson, you will be introduced to a variety of quotes as you learn about the summary of Twain's observances, experiences, and acquaintances.

A Summary

In 1861, Twain opted to travel west with Orion Clemens, his brother and Secretary of the Nevada territory. Through Roughing It, he expresses his thoughts on the Pony Express, outlaws, fights, trains, Mormons, travellng through the desert, life in the mountains, prospecting, mining, robberies, shootings, fires, merchants, and funerals.

As Twain suggested, ''This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history or a philosophical dissertation.'' However, the book is more than a personal narrative; it is a humorous look at the trials and tribulations that Twain encountered during his adventures.

Twain's Travels

The book begins in St. Louis, where Twain and Orion catch a boat traveling to St. Joseph. It is there that the stagecoach traveling adventures begin. From St. Joseph, Twain and his brother head west through Missouri, eventually making it to Nebraska. Then, Twain travels further through San Francisco all the way to Hawaii's Sandwich Islands.

Throughout the book, Twain vividly expresses details about his travels. ''By and by we passed through Marysville, and over the Big Blue and Little Sandy; thence about a mile, and entered Nebraska. About a mile further on, we came to the Big Sandy--one hundred and eighty miles from St. Joseph.''

Twain vibrantly describes the geographical regions as well. ''The mountains are very high and steep about Carson, Eagle and Washoe Valleys--very high and very steep, and so when the snow gets to melting off fast in the Spring and the warm surface-earth begins to moisten and soften, the disastrous land-slides commence.''

Aside from the landscapes, Twain introduces us to the varied cultures of the towns and cities in which he visited. ''In place of the grand mud-colored brown fronts of San Francisco, I saw dwellings built of straw, adobies, and cream-colored pebble-and-shell- conglomerated coral, cut into oblong blocks and laid in cement. . .''

Stagecoach travels
Image of Stagecoach

Twain's Work Experiences

Roughing It is not just about the logistics of travel, the landscapes, and the cultures; it is about Twain's experiences. Throughout his adventures, he worked as a miner, reporter, trader, and timber worker. His work ethic could be questioned, though.

While serving as an interim editor in chief, Twain described his work during that week: ''The third day I put it off till evening, and then copied an elaborate editorial out of the 'American Cyclopedia,' that steadfast friend of the editor, all over this land. The fourth day I 'fooled around' till midnight, and then fell back on the Cyclopedia again. The fifth day I cudgeled my brain till midnight, and then kept the press waiting while I penned some bitter personalities on six different people.'' Such a quote gives us vast insight into Twain's humor and self-perception.

Twain's Friends, Acquaintances, and Everyone Else

While Twain humors us with his self-deprecation, he is also entertaining us with stories of the people he has known or met. We are acquainted with a wealth of characters like Old Miss Wagner and her borrowed glass eye, Mr. Goodman the newspaper editor and proprietor, children of misfortune like Mr. Blucher, the legendary Jack Slade, and even Oahu the horse.

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