The Innocents Abroad – Mark Twain
The character of American humor, and its want of resemblance to the humor of Kamtschatka and Patagonia,—will the reader forgive us if we fail to set down here the thoughts suggested by these fresh and apposite topics? Will he credit us with a self-denial proportioned to the vastness of Mr. Clements’s very amusing book, if we spare to state why he is so droll, or—which is as much to the purpose—why we do not know? This reticence will leave us very little to say by way of analysis; and, indeed, there is very little to say of „The Innocents Abroad“ which is not of the most obvious and easy description. The idea of a steamer-load of Americans going on a prolonged picnic to Europe and the Holy Land is itself almost sufficiently delightful, and it is perhaps praise enough for the author to add that it suffers nothing from his handling. If one considers the fun of making a volume of six hundred octavo pages upon this subject, in compliance with one of the main conditions of a subscription book’s success, bigness namely, one has a tolerably fair piece of humor, without troubling Mr. Clements further. It is out of the bounty and abundance of his own nature that he is as amusing in the execution as in the conception of his work. And it is always good-humored humor, too, that he lavishes on his reader, and even in its impudence it is charming; we do not remember where it is indulged at the cost of the weak or helpless side, or where it is insolent, with all its sauciness and irreverence. The standard shams of travel which everybody sees through suffer possibly more than they ought, but not so much as they might; and one readily forgives the harsh treatment of them in consideration of the novel piece of justice done on such a traveller as suffers under the pseudonyme of Grimes. It is impossible also that the quality of humor should not sometimes be strained in the course of so long a narrative; but the wonder is rather in the fact that it is strained so seldom.
The Innocents Abroad.
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Themes in The Innocents Abroad (from Wikipedia):
A major theme of the book, insofar as a book can have a theme when assembled and revised from the newspaper columns Twain sent back to America as the journey progressed, is that of the conflict between history and the modern world; the narrator continually encounters petty profiteering and trivializations of history as he journeys, as well as a strange emphasis placed on particular past events, and is either outraged, puzzled, or bored by the encounter. One example can be found in the sequence during which the boat has stopped at Gibraltar. On shore, the narrator encounters seemingly dozens of people intent on regaling him, and everyone else, with a bland and pointless anecdote concerning how a particular hill nearby acquired its name, heedless of the fact that the anecdote is, indeed, bland, pointless, and entirely too repetitive. Another example may be found in the discussion of the story of Abelard and Heloise, where the skeptical American deconstructs the story and comes to the conclusion that far too much fuss has been made about the two lovers. Only when the ship reaches areas of the world that do not exploit for profit or bore passers-by with inexplicable interest in their history, such as the passage dealing with the ship’s time at the Canary Islands, is this attitude not found in the text.
This reaction to those who profit from the past is found, in an equivocal and unsure balance with reverence, in the section of the book that deals with the ship’s company’s experiences in the Holy Land. The narrator reacts here, not only to the exploitation of the past and the unreasoning (to the American eye of the time) adherence to old ways, but also to the profanation of religious history. Many of his illusions are shattered, including his discovery that the nations described in the Old Testament could easily fit inside many American states and counties, and that the „kings“ of those nations might very well have ruled over fewer people than could be found in some small towns.
This equivocal reaction to the religious history the narrator encounters may be magnified by the prejudices of the time, as the United States was still primarily a Protestant nation at that point. The Catholic Church, in particular, receives a considerable amount of attention from the narrator, specifically its institutionalized nature. This is particularly apparent in the section of the book dealing with Italy, where the poverty of the lay population and the relative affluence of the church causes the narrator to urge the inhabitants—in the text of the book, if not directly—to rob their priests.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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