Film Reveals Twain’s Tragedies
By Cecilia Gigliotti
The works of Mark Twain, especially Huckleberry Finn, have intrigued and impressed me throughout my education.
So I was surprised to find in Ken Burns’ documentary Mark Twain that the life of this American literary and comedic giant was marred by such tragedy.
How could this man approach writing and society with such a wicked and irrepressible sense of humor after bankruptcy and the loss of a younger brother, two children, and eventually his wife?
How could he have remained such a source of entertainment and joy for family and friends and for the nation when his personal and business affairs were a shambles?
How could he have continued serving in this fashion while holding himself fully responsible for the horrors befalling him, his family, and his country?
His experiences seemed to have given him an incredibly tough skin. Twain’s idiosyncratic writing style has always struck me, but after watching the documentary, I am even more deeply moved by the extent of his personal resilience and determination.
I can just about verify that I would hardly be motivated to continue forward if I were in such a position as he found himself in his middle age.
The idea that one can extract a sense of humor, not from an optimistic outlook on the human experience, but from an understanding that people need cheer in an otherwise rather cheerless world, moves me as a writer and as a human being, particularly because I am conscious of my own daily quest for happiness.
Reflecting on what I have seen, I can claim neither happiness nor unhappiness to have been Samuel Clemens’s lot. But when Samuel Clemens grew cold and lost hope, his ability to withstand the winter by seeking solace in the eternal summer of Mark Twain – a personality which he regarded as his job – fills me with perhaps more awe than the ability of his writing to withstand the test of time.