Life on the Mississippi
by Mark Twain (1835-1910)

A river memoir documenting Twain’s early days as an apprentice steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. Reminiscing about his happy experiences as a young man under the instruction of an experienced mentor, the autobiographical tale depicts one of the most vivid illustrations of river life. Furthermore, the book captures the author’s nostalgic emotions through his resonant depiction of one of the most notable periods of his life.

Twain begins his memoir with a rich historical account of the Mississippi River including its exploration by early explorers, its evolution, and its vastness. He then proceeds to tell of his youthful experiences along the river, and its significant role in his life from early childhood right up to adulthood. Subsequently, the classic focuses on Twain’s time as a cub-pilot on a steamboat and the incidents that occur during his apprenticeship. Never depicting a dull moment, the author mentions various characters and encounters which further enrich the tale as he navigates along the river. Written from a personal point of view, the story offers insight as the audience is exposed to a different angle of river life through an enchanting travel log. He vibrantly describes the beauties of the Mississippi River with its twists, shallows, rapids, turns and landmarks, consequently bringing life to the river. In the second part of the book, however, Twain describes a different experience on the Mississippi River, conveying the harsh reality of progress as he travels along the river years later. In addition the book presents opposing images of a bucolic setting not yet altered by the inescapable grasp of industrialization, and the image of the consequences instigated by industrialization and automation. A stunning blend of autobiography, history and tall tales, the book has much to offer to its audience, and also includes humorous appendixes and commentaries.

A well comprised piece of writing, Life on the Mississippi is full of imagery and descriptive language that portrays the beauty of nature, culture and heritage. Exploring themes such as inevitable change and progress in society, gratification gained from the simplicity of nature, and the deceptiveness of outward appearance, the book is a timeless classic portraying an important part of American history.

 

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