Mark Twain Reading The River Analysis

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In Reading the River, Mark Twain begins by stating that the Mississippi river “had a new story to tell every day,” implying both the extensive beauty and the possibility of a variety of perspectives on the river. Mark Twain, born Samuel L. Clemens, spent much of his life as a riverboat pilot. This occupation inspired his pen name, a leadsman term for the depth at which it was safe to pilot a steamboat. Through many years of experience, he became an expert at navigating the treacherous course of the Mississippi. Reading the River is an excerpt from his memoir Life on the Mississippi in which he describes the many aspects of life on the river. In this passage, Twain contrasts the perspectives of a passenger and a pilot in order to convey his …show more content…
He compares the river to a book, suggesting that a passenger “could not read it” but would still be “charmed” by the superficial “pretty pictures” in it. At first, Twain portrays this as a disadvantage, since the passenger does not analyze or appreciate every detail and the deeper meaning of the “book.” However, he continues by demonstrating that this naive view allows a steamboat passenger to appreciate the beauty of the river. Twain uses extensive visual detail when reminiscing about his first steamboating experience. For example, he focuses on the color of each individual component of the river scene, stating that the “river was turned to blood,” a log was “black and conspicuous,” and the water was “as many-tinted as an opal,” conveying the extent to which a passenger perceives the beauty of the river. Twain also romanticizes this image and shows the fascination of a naive passenger by illustrating sunlight as an “unobstructed splendor.” He compares himself, new to the Mississippi, to “one bewitched… in a speechless rapture.” expressing the ability of the passenger to be deeply affected by this sight. The description of this experience as a “rapture” further emphasizes the power the river can have on an inexperienced observer; Twain uses the dual meaning of rapture to illustrate the joy and the almost heavenly experience he …show more content…
He compares a riverboat pilot to a doctor and the river to a beautiful woman, expressing the ability of such diagnostic occupations to destroy the exquisiteness of a “lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek” just as much as the “marvels of coloring” along the Mississippi river. After analyzing both the naive and experienced perspectives on the river, Twain reaches the conclusion that he “pities doctors” and consequently pities himself for this loss of romance and beauty in what he used to love. Twain contrasts the “visible charms” of a woman with the “hidden decay” that a doctor is able to see, lamenting the destruction of the charms he previously attributed to the river. In the last two sentences of the passage, he questions whether other professionals, specifically doctors, had experienced the same evaporation of beauty and romance surrounding their occupation as he had. Twain’s realization, derived from the synthesis of his analysis on both the naive and knowledgeable perspectives of nature, is that learning a trade can greatly inhibit one’s appreciation for the beauty of

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