Authors We Love: Mark Twain

Mark Twain - Wikipedia

Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 — April 21, 1910) was an American writer and speaker, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, whose pseudonym was “Mark Twain,” a term used by Mississippi River sailors to indicate the depth of water measured in a waterway.

When he was 12 years old, his father died, he had to stop school and go to the factory as a laborer. He worked as a pilot, miner and journalist on the Mississippi River. Gradually, he began to write some interesting sketches and began his writing career. Twain’s representative works include the novels “The Million Pound Bank Note”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and so on.

Mark Twain is the founder of American critical realism literature. This genre was typical in novels, plays, prose, poetry and other aspects. In terms of content, his works criticized the unreasonable phenomenon or the ugliness of human nature, and expressed the strong sense of justice and concern for the common people. Stylistically, both the experts and the general reader agree that humor and satire are characteristics of his writing. He experienced the transformation from capitalism to imperialism in the early stage of the United States, hence his thoughts and creations were also reflected in the development stage from light humor to bitter satire and then to pessimism. In the early stages, he was good at bitter satire, but in the later stage, his language was more exposed and fierce.

The works of Mark Twain are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Iron Heel by Jack London

The Iron Heel (Penguin Classics): London, Jack, Auerbach, Jonathan ...

The novel “The Iron Heel” is written in the form of a memoir, the author is Avis. The manuscript, which was written by Ives, was hidden in a hole in a dead tree before she died and was only found hundreds of years later. Everhard, a Socialist ideologue turned blacksmith, was a guest of Avis’s father, a liberal professor, whose revelations of the cruel exploitation of the monopoly capitalists interested her, and she went herself to investigate and prove the truth. A worker who had his hand broken trying to protect a machine lost his case in court after being fired without a pension. “The Iron Heel” continues to write about the struggle between the revolution and the counter-revolution, how the counter-revolutionary cultivated the working aristocracy and destroyed the workers’ unity, how the government and army suppressed the people’s unrest, how the revolutionaries carried out open and underground struggles, and how the masses overthrew the American bourgeois oligarchy — “The Iron Heel”.

The author foresees the day when a deadly struggle between the American proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the oligarchy known in the novel as “The Iron Heel”, will break out. Jack London gives readers a great picture of the proletarian revolution through his fictional account of the armed riots that broke out in Chicago in 1917. Such scenes were seen in Paris in 1871 and in Petersburg in 1905. “The Iron Heel” is a political prophetic novel conveying Jack London’s wish for the broad proletariat to unite in the armed revolutionary struggle. “The Iron Heel” depicts the failure of the American workers’ revolutionary uprising and the establishment of bloody rule, but the novel is full of revolutionary optimism. He is convinced of the establishment of a progressive and just social system for human beings, and also believes that the future will not be a society where people oppress and exploit people. Jack London’s moderate socialist stance has been replaced by a radical revolutionary attitude in “The Iron Heel”. He predicted that capitalism would go to extremes, to evils, and advocated its overthrow by violence. “The Iron Heel” is a literary expression of Jack London’s dissatisfaction with the right-leaning revolutionary line of the socialist party members of his day.

The novel’s main story takes place in Chicago, an industrial city that, according to Avis’s manuscript, has been the center of a storm of conflict, with brutal street battles, assassinations, bloodshed, and violence. In writing about the big themes of Chicago, writers often focus on concrete examples to support the macro level of class struggle at the micro level. Jack London focuses on the tragic experience of Jackson, a representative of the ordinary working class. Jack London, through such an example, on the one hand attacked the dehumanized industrial production, which used laborers as slaves. Once the laborers lost their labor value, they were mercilessly abandoned. On the other hand, the writer criticizes the capitalist social system and the superstructure of capitalist economic production, which conspire to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie while maintaining unequal economic distribution.

-Coreen C.

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie - Kindle edition by Dreiser, Theodore. Literature ...

Carrie, a country girl, came to Chicago with a longing for the city. Carrie soon felt disappointed after a while. She lived in her sister’s house, and the shabby and humiliating conditions destroyed her dreams. At that moment Drouet, whom Carrie had met on the train, appeared. He extended a generous hand and offered financial help, and the two moved in together. The present life was a little like the one she had dreamed of, but she found that the relationship was not right. Then he meets Hurstwood, a publican, and they flirt and fall in love. Often, as they walked among the lights and the wine and the food, Carrie saw the congruity between dream and reality. However, such a life can not come so easily. Something happened to the landlord. In desperation, Hurstwood fled to New York with Carrie. For the rest of his life, the tavern owner was stranded like a dog. Once again she experienced what hardship meant. By chance, Sister Carrie found work at the Opera, and her good looks and natural voice put to good use. She grew popular and wealthy, and Hurstwood became a worn and rusted machine before her eyes. She left Hurstwood and lived a life of splendor alone which made Hurstwood kill himself.

This work is characterized by realism, which reveals the tragic fact of people’s fanatical pursuit of The American dream in the early 20th century. It reveals the instinctive theme that drives people to enjoy but ultimately disillusion and shows that there can be no real happiness in the money-centered American capitalist society. It can be seen from the novel that Carrie’s degeneration has certain social factors. First of all, due to the capitalist system at that time, Carrie was the representative of a group of people at the bottom of society. She was forced by a hard life and had to go down the road. On the other hand, it stems from Carrie’s dissatisfaction with the present situation of life and her constant pursuit of a higher life to satisfy her desire, which leads the man on whom she constantly depends to embark on this degenerate road. It was social and objective that Carrie had lost her job. It was this objective factor that led Carrie down a depraved path. Even when Hurstwood had told her that he had a wife, his financial ability and social position still attracted Carrie so deeply that she followed him to New York. For this man was able to gratify Carrie’s desires and her great vanity. Because in society at that time, having money meant still having a good quality of life. Having a high social status is not the value orientation of Carrie alone, but the value orientation of the whole society. It is this value orientation that influences a group of women from the countryside like Carrie to take this path.

-Coreen C.

The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner

The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

The Gilded Age is a novel published in 1873. The novel boldly reveals the decayed darkness of the capitalist development stage after the American Civil War by means of realism. The author makes a bitter satire on the bourgeois democratic system and exposes the speculative epidemic, corruption and bribery prevailing in the whole country at that time. Through his own experience and by witnessing the social phenomenon, the author employs exquisite artistic techniques to depict social reality and condense it into the novel, so as to fully present the scene of corruption to the readers.The period from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th century became known as the Gilded Age because of its widespread use to describe the corrupt politics and vulgarity of materialism in the United States.

From the end of the Civil War to the first half century of the 20th century, the United States experienced a period of rapid economic growth. The end of the Civil War cleared the way for the development of capitalism, and a large number of workers and immigrants provided the United States with abundance of cheap labor. The continuous discovery of mineral deposits and the nascent technological revolution brought abundant resources for the liberation of productive forces. By 1894, the United States had become the world’s largest country by virtue of its industrial output. However, rapid economic development has not brought people the same happiness. A large number of migrant workers in cities lead to the increase of urban operating load; air, water and noise pollution can be seen everywhere; workers’ income security does not match the scale of enterprise development; the problem of food safety is extremely serious; infrastructure construction in urbanization lags behind; corruption involving collusion between government and business occurs frequently; the anxiety of the people at the bottom and the impetuous mentality of the society are increasing.

The Gilded Age is more of a social survey than a novel. It reveals and criticizes the reality of life in American society during this period from several aspects. Corruption, opportunism and plunder, as well as the social noise and smoke of wealth, are presented to the reader in the images of politicians such as Dilworthy and Colonel Sellers. The Gilded Age combines humor and satire, with unique personal wit, profound social insight and analysis. Humor not only plays a role in regulating life and releasing worries in this novel, but more importantly, enables readers to deeply observe reality, life and society. Society is mercilessly exposed in the humor of The Gilded Age, and the oddities of the underclass are kindly mocked.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Martin Eden by Jack London

Martin Eden - Jack London | Feedbooks

Martin Eden is a semi-autobiographical novel written by American writer Jack London. The story tells about young sailor Martin Eden to get acquainted with Miss Rose of high society by chance, be inspired by her, and began his hard creation career. Despite all the setbacks, he still refused to obey Rose’s arrangement to enter her father’s office and become a promising young man. Then his fortune suddenly changed, and manuscripts that had previously been rejected were published and he became a popular writer. Friends and relatives who despised him before fell over each other to invite him to dinner, and Miss Rose who had broken up with him also came to throw herself on him. This makes him see clearly this world as a cold society; the wonderful illusion that holds him to love also is also disillusioned thoroughly.

In the real American society where Jack London lives, the United States has entered the period of monopoly capitalism. The bourgeoisie not only monopolizes the material wealth of society but also monopolizes the spiritual wealth. The bourgeoisie believes that all good things in the society belong to them, no matter in material life or in spiritual life. In the face of the underclass they turned their noses up. Therefore, in Jack London’s novel Martin Eden, the criticism and accusation of the corruption of the capitalist system, the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, and the inequality of class hierarchy can be seen everywhere. Through the description of the text, the reader can see different faces of the characters in the novel and feel the resistance behind feelings of the hero and heroine, their irreconcilable differences in values, and the nature each class in the capitalist society.

-Coreen C.

Running for Governor by Mark Twain

Running for Governor: Twain, Mark: 9781523289370: Amazon.com: Books

“Running for Governor” is a unique artistic work, a special genre between satire and short story. While a novel should be about character and plot, “Running for Governor” doesn’t focus on character or plot, but describes a bunch of cleverly arranged news stories and interspersed commentary. In that sense, it’s like a funny story, or a satirical essay. However, it is different from the general satirical sketch, because although it does not focus on depicting the character, it cannot be said that it does not show the character at all. It runs through the process of the emotional change and awakening of a character “I”.

Aesthetically, humor and satire belong to comedy. When something that is intrinsically ugly takes the form of something that is good and just; or, on the other hand, when something essentially good is expressed in some harmless form which is not in harmony with its essence, it tends to have a comedic effect — the former may be satirical and ridiculous, the latter humorous and ridiculous. “Running for Governor” is based on this contradictory principle of content and form, and adopts hyperbole to create a comic effect.

As a master of critical realism, the artistic feature of Mark Twain’s writing is based on his profound insight into the various social conditions and human affairs of capitalism. The sharp point of criticism directly points to the hypocrisy and ugly soul of capitalism. The irony in language is the most outstanding feature of “Running for Governor”. As for the use of language, Mark Twain is not impatient, but slowly, through vivid and delicate brushwork to show the subtle changes and contrasts in the text incisively and vividly.

-Coreen C.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard Times - Kindle edition by Dickens, Charles . Literature & Fiction  Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Hard Times is a novel by Charles Dickens, published in 1854. It describes life in an industrial town. Dickens was now 42 years old. The setting for this book is a time of intense industrial tensions in British society. Josiah Bounderby, a banker and textile mill owner, was friends with Thomas Gradgrind, a retired hardware wholesaler, Congressman and educator. Together they controlled the town’s economic system and educational institutions. They are materialistic and unsentimental, pretentious, and live by the principle of utilitarianism. Bounderby was attended by the widow Mrs. Sparsit. He taught his children to be practical and down-to-earth. When they learned to walk, they were put into classrooms and spent their days dealing with numbers. They were not allowed to read poetry or stories. Gradgrind marries his young daughter Louisa to the much older Bounderby, and the widow Mrs. Sparsit, jealous of her, inflicts pain on her, leading to the breakup of her marriage. At Gradgrind’s own educational initiative, his son Tom was forced to help Bounderby with his work. He led a dissolute life and was heavily in debt. He stole money from The Bounderby Bank and ran away, hiding in the circus and playing the role of a clown. After a series of painful lessons and the influence of Sissy Jupe, a circus girl, he gradually changed his attitude towards life and was sent to America by his father. Bounderby liked to boast of his self-made wealth, and to accuse workers of being dissatisfied with their delusions of luxury. Five years later Bounderby died of a stroke on the streets of Cookstown, and Louisa remarried.

Father Goriot by Honoré·de Balzac

Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

“Father Goriot” focuses on exposing and criticizing the naked money relationship between people in the capitalist world. The novel is set in Paris between the end of 1819 and the beginning of 1820. It mainly tells two parallel and overlapping stories. Retired flour-maker Goriot was neglected by his two daughters and died miserably in the attic of an apartment. The young Rastignac changed constantly under the corrosion of Paris society, but he still maintained justice and morality.

It’s also interspersed with stories about Madame de Beauséant and Madame Vauquer. Through the alternating main stages of shabby apartments and luxurious aristocratic salons, the writer paints a picture of the materialistic and extremely ugly society of Paris. It reveals the moral decay of the bourgeoisie under the control of the power of money and the ruthlessness between people, and reveals the inevitable destruction of the aristocracy under the attack of the bourgeoisie, which truly reflects the characteristics of the Bourbon Restoration period.

In “Father Goriot”, Balzac successfully depicts the complex relationship between class and class consciousness through the fate of Eugène de Rastignac and Goriot. This complex relationship has a historical basis. As two different classes, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie have different economic bases, lifestyles and values, and occupy a dominant position in different historical periods. In France, in this sense, both the rise of Eugène de Rastignac and the fall of Goriot are the inevitable products of certain historical situations. The context set in the novel is 1819.

Although it was the restoration period of Bourbon, the regression was only partial, and the overall trend of historical development could not be reversed. The capitalist mode of production became increasingly stable, and the bourgeois consciousness inevitably became increasingly dominant. The gradual dominance of bourgeois consciousness not only means that the aristocracy is defeated on the whole, but also means that some individual aristocrats are incorporated by the bourgeoisie, such as Eugène de Rastignac.

This shows that the rule of the aristocracy was not only defeated from the outside, but ultimately collapsed from the inside as well. At the same time, the process eliminated members of the bourgeoisie who were not pure, such as Goriot. The bourgeoisie was consolidated from within. This shows the complexity of the historical process in which the bourgeoisie replaced the aristocracy. The struggle between the two took place not only externally, but also internally, not only in the form of revolution, but also in the form of ideological struggle.

Madame de Beauséant and Vautrin are the smartest people in the world. They had insight into a society that was respectable on the outside but dirty underneath. They were Eugène de Rastignac’s worthy mentors, and without them the young peasant would not have awakened so quickly. However, in addition to the words of these two teachers, it was also due to the example of Goriot that finally enlightened Eugène de Rastignac. We do not say this to regard Goriot as a bad man, or to say that he had done something unseemly.

Goriot died alone after his two daughters had bled him clean of his poor savings, and Eugène de Rastignac was a witness to the whole course of this tragic event. It was from here that Eugène de Rastignac saw through the world’s sordid society and was no longer under any illusion about the so-called justice, affection, friendship and so on between people. Therefore, he was determined to enter the upper class arena as a challenger. Sure enough, after some struggles, when the reader sees the young man again in one of Balzac’s other works, he has already mixed up a personal image.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm takes place on a mismanaged farm in England. The animals, upset with their treatment, prepare a rebellion to take over the farm. Once the farm is taken over, the animals attempt to validate their rights by painting seven commandments on the wall; these commandments are known as “animalism,” and they set the basic laws for the farm animals. These laws are: whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. no animal shall wear clothes, no animal shall sleep in a bed, no animal shall drink alcohol, no animal shall kill any other animal, all animals are equal, and whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. In addition, the farm, known as the Manor Farm, is renamed into Animal Farm.

Soon after the animals seize control of the farm, the pigs, the leaders of the farm, run into management issues. The two leaders of the farm, Snowball and Napoleon, can not decide how they want to run the farm; Snowball wants a windmill to be constructed in order to reduce work hours, while Napoleon believes a hard-working, simple farm is the happiest lifestyle the animals can work.

Day after day, the pigs become more human than animal, and they begin to slowly change the seven commandments, in order to manipulate and dominate over the other animals. For instance, the law “no animal shall drink alcohol” is changed into “no animal shall drink alcohol to excess,” and as time goes on, the pigs even begin to purge the farm of opposition to their reign.

Animal Farm reflects history since it shows even a government with the noblest intentions can be corrupted. Snowball represents the idea of capitalism, while Napoleon represents communism. Napoleon controls the farm through the belief that the animals are their own rulers, and that they are better off ruling themselves than they were under the reign of humans. The reality is that Napoleon is simply deceiving the animals with words and numbers, as the pigs slowly force the other animals into submission until the animals cannot differentiate pig from human.

-Josh N. 

Animal Farm is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive