You are here

Thematic Aspects of Humor in M. Twain`s Fictional Prose and Journalism

Научные исследования: 


For citation: Maximov B.A. (2019) Tematicheskie aspekty yumora v khudozhestvennoy proze i publitsistike M. Tvena [Thematic Aspects of Humor in M. Twain`s Fictional Prose and Journalism]. Mediaskop1. (in Russian). Available at:

DOI: 10.30547/mediascope.1.2019.3


© Boris A. Maximov

PhD in Philology, Senior Researcher at the Chair of Foreign Journalism and Literature, Faculty of Journalism, Lomonosov Moscow State University (Moscow, Russia),



The purpose of this study is to connect Twain`s convictions and didactic intentions with his "talent for humorous writing" (to quote Twain`s early self-definition). Mostly, scholars used to discuss them separately, so Twain`s humor becomes either a showy surface covering (if not hiding) substantial statements or a goal in itself, that exposes the overall absurdity of human condition. In my opinion, Twain did neither preach under the guise of humor, nor did he aim an ironical reversal of all values and guides. Instead, he was attracted to issues involving inner incongruences and distortions, i.e. to topics with great comic potential. The Gilded Age mentality was full of inconsistencies and soaring ambitions and hence ideally suited to a humorist. Here we examine, how Twain uses some of the widespread contradictions (that between historical tradition and zealous progressionism, between inherited addiction to violence and refined manners of a perfect gentleman, and, finally, between the Calvinist view of providence and of depravity and modern secular ethics) for comical purposes. Some attention is paid to his (humorous) strategies for dramatizing contrasts and for curbing inflated expectations and ambitions of his countrymen.

Keywords: Mark Twain, humor, progress, violence, Calvinism.



Aldridge D. (2017) Mark Twain and the Brazen Serpent: How Biblical Burlesque and Religious Satire Unify Huckleberry Finn. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Balditsyn P.V. (2004) Tvorchestvo Marka Tvena i natsional'nyy kharakter amerikanskoy literatury [Mark Twain`s Creation and the National Character of the American Literature]. Moscow: VK Publ.

Berkove L.I., Csicsila J. (2010) Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press

Budd J.L., Messent P.B. (eds.) (2005) A Companion to Mark Twain. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Bush H.K.Jr., Fishkin S.F. (eds.) (2002) A Historical Guide to Mark Twain. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Сох J.M. (2002) Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press.

Cummings S. P. (1988) Mark Twain and Science: Adventures of a Mind. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press

Fistell I. (2012) Ira Fistell'S Mark Twain: Three Encounters. Bloomington IN: Xlibris US. 

Florence D. (1995) Persona and Humor in Mark Twain's Early Writings. Columbia; London: University of Missouri Press.

Fulton J.B. (2006) The Reverend Mark Twain: Theological Burlesque, Form, and Content. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press

Gruzdeva E.A. (2012) Obraz prostaka v rannem tvorchestve Marka Tvena [Image of a Noddy in Early Creation of Mark Twain]. Uchenye zapiski Kazanskogo universiteta 154 (2): 168−174.

Hamric C.G., LeMaster J.R., Wilson J.D. (eds.) (1993) The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishers.

Inge M.T, Piacentino E.I. (eds.) (2001) The Humor of the Old South. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky

Kolb H.H.Jr. (2015) Mark Twain: The Gift of Humor. Lanham etc.: University Press of America

Messent P.B. (2007) The Cambridge Introduction to Mark Twain. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Messent P.B. (2001) The Short Works of Mark Twain: A Critical Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Quirk Т. (2007) Mark Twain and Human Nature. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press

Schulman R. (1989) Social Criticism and Nineteenth-Century American Fictions. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press

Startsev A.I. (1980) Mark Tven i Amerika [Mark Twain and America]. In: Mark Twain. Sobranie sochineniy [Collected Works]: in 8 vol. Moscow: Pravda Publ., vol. 1, pp. 3−34.