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Go E a s t , Y o u n g M a n : C l a s s C o n f l i c t a n d D e g e n e r a t e M a n h o o d in M a r k T w a i n ’s E a r l y W r i t i n g s JO S E P H L . C O U L O M B E Midway through Roughing It (1872), the character young Sam decides to give up mining and begin writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. Reflecting upon his new position, the author Twain writes, “I secured a more Christian costume and discarded the revolver. I had never had occasion to kill anybody, nor ever felt a desire to do so, but had worn the thing in deference to popular sentiment” (274). Tongue in cheek, he explains his supposed transformation from “a rusty-looking city editor” in slouch hat, woolen shirt, and stuffed boots to a reputable man about town (274). Ascribing his revolver to “popular sentiment,” Twain informs readers that he had adopted cer­ tain western attributes merely as a cover. The description emphasizes his new respectability and success. However, the “Christian costume”— as Twain labeled it in 1872— is exactly that: a costume. From 1862 to 1866, when Twain writes for Nevada and California newspapers, he targets a predominantly workingclass western male audience, and he manipulates regional stereotypes, class prejudices, and gender roles to create the image of a harddrinking , low-living straight-talker. In 1870-71, while Twain converts his western experiences into Roughing It, he adopts various strategies to smooth the rough edges of this early persona. In Roughing It, he is writing for a larger, more heterogeneous audience, and the passage above is just one example of how Twain seeks to accomplish in the East the very change being dramatized for Sam in the West, presenting himself “ in deference to popular sentiment.” Although RoughingIt is often interpreted as a tenderfoot’s initiation into western culture (a trend begun by Henry Nash Smith in Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer [1962] and continued by Everett Emerson in The Authentic Mark Twain [1984] and Henry Wonham in Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale [1993], among others), it might also be read as Twain’s “initiation” into mainstream eastern society. That is, in an effort to appeal to a new set of readers and critics, Twain consciously de-emphasizes the overtly 234 WAL 36.3 FALL 2001 masculine, working-class traits— like drinking, smoking, and off-color joking— integral to his success in Nevada and California. This essay explores the stages of Twain’s changing manipulation of nineteenth-century stereotypes about men and class in the American West. Although his popularity while writing in the West resulted from his ability to transform negative presumptions into positive and humor­ ous features of western life, Twain’s desire to succeed financially— and thus fulfill nineteenth-century expectations for men— prompts him to subdue the more subversive aspects of his persona when he begins writing for a more diverse audience in the East. During this period of transformation, however, Twain appears caught between shifting cul­ tural ideals for men, as defined by Anthony Rotundo. Whereas men were once valued for community leadership and usefulness, they were increasingly expected to prove themselves through self-interested ambition and wealth. Twain was divided between the new nineteenthcentury market individualism and a residual eighteenth-century com­ munity altruism. This conflict causes the inconsistencies in Roughing It. Without resurrecting the strict— sometimes stereotypical— distinctions between East and West evident in the Bernard De Voto/Van Wyck Brooks debate, I will outline the cultural attitudes and personal history that encouraged Twain to revise his persona as well as demonstrate how these revisions resulted in the internal contradictions of Roughing It.1 In 1853, seventeen-year-old Twain runs away to Philadelphia and New York City, and his private letters during this time provide an essen­ tial starting point for understanding his public self-creation in Nevada and California as well as its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 233-258
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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