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.
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.
Twain also uses his energies to contemplate various religions and religious practices.
”As far as I can see, Italy, for fifteen hundred years, has turned. . . all her finances. . .
to the building up of a vast array of wonderful church edifices, and starving half her citizens to accomplish it.” Twain uses satire to stress how much religion, an institution focused on salvation and goodness, is revered while people suffer. Contradictions abound in the religious institutions.
Twain uses humor to compare how the Inquisition used force and fear to indoctrinate others to the Christian religion in comparison to the force of wild beasts throng upon the men, as Romans had done in the past. ”. .
. when the holy Mother Church became mistress of the barbarians, she taught them the error of their ways. . . she put them in this pleasant Inquisition and pointed to the Blessed Redeemer.
. . they urged the barbarians to love him. . . first by twisting their thumbs out of joint with a screw; then by nipping their flesh with pincers. .
. because they are the most comfortable in cold weather; then by skinning them alive a little, and finally by roasting them in public.” One must wonder if such practices are actually more kind than the past approaches of the Romans.
Of course, one cannot converse about religion without discussing grottos, for which we ”.
. . ought to thank the Catholics. . . ” Per Twain, ”.
. . the Holy Family always lived in grottoes – in Nazareth, in Bethlehem, in imperial Ephesus – and yet nobody in their day and generation thought of doing anything of the kind.” The grotto, however, was not just a home.
”. . .when the Virgin fled from Herod’s wrath, she hid in a grotto;. the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem was done in a grotto, the Saviour was born in a grotto. It is exceedingly strange that these tremendous events all happened in grottoes. .
.” Alas, we must recognize that Twain’s commentary not only accentuates his view of the ridiculousness of grottoes but perhaps, also, that of organized religion.
In Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, Twain exposes readers to new cultures with his own critical eye.
He uses satire to show contradictions of everything from American culture and perspectives to religion. He exaggerates and uses humor while showing readers different languages, cultures, governments, socio-economic systems, and religions. As he proposes, ”The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad,” showing us that he realizes the ridiculousness of some of his observances. Maybe he’s not as much a ”consummate ass” as he appears throughout his travels.