‘Wit Inspirations of the Two-Year-Olds’ by Mark Twain: Short Story Analysis
‘Wit Inspirations of the Two-Year-Olds’ is a humorous piece penned in the late nineteenth century by American writer Mark Twain. Mark Twain is considered the greatest humorist of America, and William Faulkner has gone on record to call Twain the very father of American Literature. This short story is framed in the manner of a humorous lecture piece about the late nineteenth-century practice of printing the words, utterings, and accomplishments of infants in speech. Many proud parents showcased their children or rather toddler’s talents in Twain’s time that he took it upon himself to write a humorous piece about it. This short story-cum-essay lecture is an exaggeration of Mark Twain’s father’s cruelty and an indictment to those who think that the world should be bothered with the witticisms, if any, of their toddlers. Mark Twain’s idea would be to print something of worth in these periodicals and not such trash. He describes his own parents’ distress and even anger when, as a toddler, he utters smart witticisms. Of course, it is all a white lie to add humor to the story. It narrates the comical tale of a toddler barely born into this world who can speak.
This piece highlights the time when Mark Twain was born. He was two weeks old when his parents decided to give him a name. Four people are considering names like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
- Mark Twain’s strict father
- His docile but highly anxious mother.
- His uncle Ephraim.
- Mark Twain’s aunt, who is Ephraim’s wife.
They consider what to name Mark Twain. The hilarity of the situation is in the sarcastic banter of a two-week-old Mark Twain, which is just ignored or considered an affront by his family members. Mark Twain uses a fictional atmosphere and exaggeration to convey the silliness and stupidity of some parents of toddlers who make a hue and cry of their toddlers’ verbal achievements and publish them in periodicals and journals. It is also an admonishment to the editors and publishers of these periodicals and journals who accept such articles and print them. They only do it to gain favor and more sales for their newsletters. In a tongue-in-cheek manner, Mark Twain mentions that when he was young, his stern father would never think of letting the toddler Mark Twain say anything ‘smart’ which would not suit his age.
In this short story, Mark Twain humorously narrates his smart-aleck responses to the ongoing discussion of a choice of name for him:
- The name of Abraham suits the subscriber.
- Isaac and Jacob’s names were good enough for him, but he wanted his rattle to be passed to him because he could not go on all day cutting his teeth on rings made of Indian rubber.
- He would never appreciate it if he was named ‘Samuel’ because even the prophet Samuel did not like his name. In a laugh-out-loud response, Mark Twain says that Samuel, the prophet mentioned in the Holy Bible, responded to God’s call only after being called three or more times. Mark Twain twists the story, indicating that since the prophet Samuel did not like his name, he did not immediately reply to God.
The last witticism by the toddler Mark Twain made his father very angry. The next day he gives Mark Twain a proper spanking, and the name Samuel sticks to Mark Twain. We do know that Mark Twain was one of the pseudonyms used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Mark Twain used many pseudonyms during the early part of his writing career until he decided on Mark Twain when part of the Bohemians of San Francisco. You can read about it in my book review of The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff. So, under Mark Twain’s father’s orders and physical abuse, Twain was named Samuel, a name he states he detested. Twain comically mentions how he tried to get out of his cradle and dressing up in his bonnet and frock with licorice in one hand, and his pygmy booties in another protested against the name of ‘Samuel’. However, no one took him seriously; no one thought it necessary to publish Mark Twain’s comical anecdotes in any newsletter or journal.
Mark Twain tries to show how parents seek to boost their ego through the intellect of their children. Even in his time, pushy parents gushed over every word uttered by their children. They did not allow their children to live everyday, healthy lives making them grow into spoiled brats. This text indicates that publishing toddlers’ witticisms in big banner papers are taking things a bit too far. Coming to the topic of Mark Twain’s irony and satire, this short story is loaded with it. One particular portion mentions that he was a sort of child prodigy and quite a toddler who cut his first teeth on Indian rubber rings, his big toe, and his nurse’s finger. He is trying to portray here what a funny but vicious little naughty fellow he was. Twain represents his father to be:
- A person who tends to snub people, especially toddlers.
- A father given to physical abuse by spanking his child.
- A father who could hunt a person for his life if that person said anything detrimental.
- A father capable of committing child infanticide if there was any opposition to him naming his son Samuel or if Mark Twain spoke or uttered any witticism.
- A father feared by Twain that he would rather take strychnine than speak his dissent to his father.
I have reviewed many short stories by Mark Twain on my blog. You can check them out here. I enjoyed re-reading and analyzing this very short piece of American writer Mark Twain’s work. I hope to read, review, and study more novels, short stories, essays, poems, and non-fiction books by American writers in the coming days. I am celebrating the rich heritage of American books and their literary content. This is in keeping with the fact that a critical 2020 USA Elections has just been completed. If you are looking for American bookish content, then this is the site you should keep watching. I hope to read and review more short stories by Mark Twain soon. Are you an educator and are trying to get your ward to read the classics and the works of Mark Twain? Then you will find my how-to book useful. It is titled Classics: Why and how we can encourage children to read them. You can buy the book on my blog’s products page.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short-story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out my blog’s products page or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy. Happy reading to you always!
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