The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), The War Prayer and other writings

"The War Prayer"

1. What circumstances contributed to the delayed publication of this essay/book? How would the 1923 audience have differed from the one Twain would have had had he been able to publish it in Harper's Bazaar in 1905 as he had planned?

What different audience greeted it on its appearance in 1968?

2. In the 1968 edition, what is added by the illustrations by John Groth? By the placement of only a few words on the page?

What changes in the pace of narration are created in the illustrated version?

3. What is the genre of this piece--essay, drama or poem? What is appropriate about the use of a quasi-religious, poetic stye for this treatise?

4. What ironies structure this "prayer"? How does the sequence of narration reinforce the argument?

5. What purpose is served by the introduction of the mysterious stranger? Why do you think this particular figure was chosen?

Is he a living being, or do we know? To what extent might he have been intended to represent the author?

6. What are some features of the ending? How does the audience respond to the speaker's prayer?

7. Is the closure effective?

8. What is Twain's point? Does this allegory have contemporary relevance?

"A Fable," 1909

What are some literary/folkloric antecedents for this "fable"?

What is the purpose of using animals to represent humans in the tale? What instance of humor does this permit? (innocence and credulity of animals)

What are some instances of humor throughout?

What is its moral? Why is the cat chosen to present it?

What prompts the artist to place his picture opposite a mirror? What unintended effect does this have? What seems the significance of the mirror within the story?

How does the cat describe the mirror? Is his description accurate?

Why can't any of the animals except the cat see the picture? What do they infer from their failures?

Why must each animal visit the place where the picture is kept alone?

What are the implications of this story for literary reception and/or criticism?

What may have motivated Twain to write this story shortly before his death? May it refer to his own experiences with critics?

"Man's Place in the Animal World," 1896, pub. 1962

Why might this essay have remained unpublished until half a century after Twain's death?

Against what views and theories is this satire directed? How literally should we take his comments?

Why does the author add a preface, and what does this contribute? For what does it prepare the reader?

What are some of the essay's main points? Which aspects of human behavior does the author contrast unfavorably with those of the "higher animals"? (cruelty, greed, sense of shame/prurience, proneness to war, stealing of others' land; then, proneness to ill health, 214)

What techniques or rhetorical methods does he use to make his points? What is the point of presenting his "findings" as scientific? (satirizes limitations of scientific methods)

Which aspects of his argument seem paradoxical? (man's problem is his moral sense, 212) Which most convincing?

How does he use humor or comic exaggeration to make his points? What do you make of his claim that "This definitely locates [Man]. He is between the angels and the French."

Are some of his claims regarding animals oversimplified? Does this matter? In what ways is he serious?

Can you think of other satirists with a similar tone and emphasis, for example, Jonathan Swift? What targets does Twain especially emphasize?

What are the author's views on Patriotism? The Moral Sense? The intelligence of humans? Why does he make the point that humans have never imagined a heaven of intellectual pleasures?

What final point is made at the end? Does this provide an effective closure to the essay?

What are features of his essay style? (blunt, dramatic)

"On the Decay of the Art of Lying," 1882

What ironies are inherent in the fact that the speaker flatters his audience? What do you make of the fact that the audience is a historical and antiquarian society?

What are features of the essay's style? What metaphors does the author use?

What are some ironies in Twain's style? Why does he speak of "a far country, in which I once lived"?

What ironies are identified In his comments on deception and truth? Are all of the instances he identifies "lies," or may there be gradations in the literalness of truth-telling?

To what extent are his points valid? Is the illustration he provides of a "good" lie and necessary truth convincing?

Which of the points he raises have been of interest to philosophers or linguists? Are they still debated?

Is this a good essay, and if so, why?

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