Mark Twain once said when asked how to write, “Write what you know about.” His work of Life on the Mississippi is a great representation of his advice to aspiring writers. It is written in true realistic style, providing the reader with many elements. Likewise, The Lost Phoebe is written in true naturalistic style, showing elements of man’s struggle with society and himself. Both works are true to the form they are written in and have many stark contrasts in comparison.
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Twain’s writing style not only brings great descriptions of the world he presents to the reader, but he adds elements of humor to make his points. The focus of both works is on two poor characters. Twain’s character is fixated on the adventure and romanticism he believes that life on the Mississippi River will offer him. Twain incorporates truthful treatment of life surrounding his character. In describing the daily life in the town, he writes, “Once a day cheap, gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keokuk. Before these events, the day was glorious with expectancy; after them, the day was a dead and empty thing.” Twain continues to breathe life into his story by describing the town and some of its inhabitants, leaving the reader a well-shaped image of life in the town. In reading the text it seems that most people in the town trudge on in their daily lives and have lost hope or sight of what they once dreamed. They seemed to fall into a quasi-catatonic state in which their entertainment hinged on a steamboat berthing at the dock. Once gone, the town returned to regular humdrum. Even Twain’s character abandons most of his dreams: “These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.” Dimmed hope, to be certain, but not gone, Twain’s character “backs his ears” and chases down what he considers the American Dream: freedom and adventure. Twain makes it clear throughout his work that even though one may have a love for something, and romanticize it to the point of exhaustion, doesn’t mean it will be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Finding that he was treated poorly by those who didn’t consider him “one of them,” Twain points out, “Months afterward the hope within me struggled to a reluctant death, and I found myself without an ambition.” Ashamed to return back home because of failure in chasing his dream, he makes an even more bold decision to travel to the Amazon. As the chapters unfold, Twain points out what life on the Mississippi is like and maybe not as romantic as once thought. I believe he was making a point that all dreams can be this way, so be prepared for what you ask for. After all his ambitions of life on the Mighty Mississippi, the prestige of friends and family envying his position as a steamboat pilot, Twain’s character can not even remember simple navigation lessons taught to him. “â€¦my memory was never loaded with anything but blank cartridges.” In the end, it appeared that Twain’s character simply wanted the status of being a glorious steamboatman without having to learn the true nature of it. Twain shows the follies of chasing dreams without true desire to learn, because by doing so, romanticism of the dream is replaced by the reality of it. Twain also points out how society reacts to those with aspiring dreams. Twain’s character was mostly rejected by those he was attempting to emulate. There was little help and forgiveness for him. He ties these realistic elements together by inserting humor at optimal points.
In stark contrast to using humor to make a point, The Lost Phoebe is a dark representation of man versus himself, nature, and society. It begins, depressingly, describing the poor conditions of the setting. There is not one bright element in the description of the house or land around it. Indeed, the only happy element is when Dresier writes, “Old Henry Reifsneider and his wife Phoebe were a loving couple.” Even with this happy element, Dresier even later takes a dump all over that, too, when he writes, “Old Henry and his wife Phoebe were as fond of each other as it is possible for two old people to be who have nothing else in this life to be fond of.” This work is concerned more with the description of how dismal the surrounding is rather than the true nature of Henry or his wife. Any good qualities either may have possessed are void and irrelevant in this naturalistic style of writing. Whatever Dresier’s intent was in writing this work, it is clear that the circumstances involving the people Henry Reifsneider encounters, and nature, and even the nature of man, are the antagonists here. As for this reader, this piece of literature throws cold water on any ambition to marry for fear of losing my spouse and wandering around seeing apparitions of them until one day all hope is lost and his life is ended by falling off of a cliff. Every aspect of this work is dark and dismal. Reifsneider encounters the first antagonist with the death of Phoebe: “â€¦in a fog of sorrow and uncertainty, followed her body to the nearest graveyard, an unattractive space with a few pines growing in it.” The second encounter followed immediately thereafter with Reifsneider struggling against people suggesting he come to live with them. But he wanted to stay near his dead wife. Soon he found himself seeing apparitions of Phoebe that would eventually lead him to his own demise, but not before his struggles with people he encountered. ” ‘He’s clean out’n his head. That poor old feller’s been livin’ down there till he’s gone outen his mind. I’ll have to notify the authorities.’ ” one man remarked as he observed Henry. Dreiser amplifies the Naturalism style in that impact of Henry’s environment is clear, and is vividly motivated by this, in animalistic fashion, to find his wife. This story is a classic example of Naturalism style in that it is dark, lonely, and full of descriptors about a working-class environment. Arguably, the ending to this story could be construed as a happy one. Henry does find his wife through his own death, and was seemingly happy to leap. But from the first line to the last, this story is a dark tunnel that continually spirals downward. It is full of true Naturalism style and there is absolutely no real humor contained within. From the way the characters talk, to the way they are dressed, and how they interact is a snapshot of this dark theme Dresier attempts to convey.
Both works provide great descriptions of the environment of which they are trying to convey aspects of their works. However, where Dresier chooses to gain some type of sympathy for his characters by describing the outward circumstances, Twain conveys his ideas by examining some real aspects of the character as well as the real life around him. Twain makes his points more subtle than those of Dresier, but both are equally true to their form of styles.
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