Satire in the Innocents Abroad

Instructor: Tina Miller

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

Mark Twain is often forthright with his opinions and observances, especially abroad. Thus, in ''Innocents Abroad'', Twain explains his experiences as best he can, with satire. Read about it here.

Assimilation, Acceptance, and Satire

As Twain embarks on his adventure, as an innocent abroad, he satirizes everything from a country's language to a country's economy. Few subjects are withheld from Twain's observations which are disguised as humorous, exaggerated reactions. Challenge yourself to read between the lines and see what Twain is really trying to say about his experiences.

Language and Culture

Twain prides himself on his learnedness of other cultures. ''We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can 'show off' and astonish people when we get home.'' He emphasizes his ability to travel, and in doing so, he also exposes Americans' lack of a world view. His own shortcomings are highlighted in criticisms of the French culture. ''In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.'' After all, English is simple. Right? Russian, however, is not. After meeting a Russian girl, Twain refrains from speaking her name (although the kind gent has written about her) ''. . . her name is one of those nine-jointed Russian affairs, and there are not letters enough in our alphabet to hold out.'' And then there's art, and Twain's commentary thereof. He analyzes art as best he knows how, with exaggeration. ''The figure was that of a man without a skin. . . somehow it looked as if it were in pain. A skinned man would be likely to look that way. . . I am sorry I saw it. . . I shall dream of it.'' Oh, but his dreams are not just about the skinless figure. Twain uses imagery to emphasize his disdain for this piece of art. ''I shall dream that it is resting its corded arms on the bed's head and looking down on me with its dead eyes; I shall dream that it is stretched between the sheets with me and touching me with its exposed muscles and its stringy cold legs.'' Thanks for that, Twain.

Travels and Trials
Travels and Trials

Government, Wealth, and Commerce

While Twain experiences a clear culture shock, he makes other observances. In Morocco, he discovers that '''There is no regular system of taxation, but when the Emperor or the Bashaw want money, they levy on some rich man, and he has to furnish the cash or go to prison. Therefore, few men in Morocco dare to be rich.'' No man would admit as much, and surely, wealth has some importance, but Twain's explanation shows more. Few men are wealthy in such a system of inequality. Twain also makes observations on commerce. ''Greece is a bleak, unsmiling desert, without agriculture, manufactures or commerce, apparently. What supports its poverty-stricken people or its Government, is a mystery.'' One must wonder if Twain ever happened across an olive tree. Surely, there's commerce, even if he cannot see it. Of course, commerce is not the same elsewhere as is it in American. For him, separation from his native land makes his heart grow fonder. . . for ice cream. ''We never cared anything about ice-cream at home, but we look upon it with a sort of idolatry now that it is so scarce in these red-hot climates of the East.'' Maybe, it is not separation, but ice cream that makes the heart grow fonder.

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