Mark Twain's Critique of Globalization (Old and New) in Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World (1897)
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- University of Arizona
- Volume 61, Number 1, Spring 2005
- pp. 109-135
- Additional Information
JOHN CARLOS ROWE Mark Twain's Critique of Globalization (Old and New) in Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World (1897) It is not our custom to put ourselves in the other person's place. Twain, Following the Equator The Whites always mean well when they take human fish out of the ocean and try to make them dry and warm and happy and comfortable in a chicken coop. . . . One is almost betrayed into respecting those criminals , they were so sincerely kind, and tender, and humane, and wellmeaning . Twain, Following the Equator ark twain's Following the Equator has for a very long time provided us with some of the most trenchant quotations regarding European imperialism in the modern period, as well as a wide range of warnings to the United States as it followed British, Spanish, Portuguese , Dutch, French, German, and Russian colonial models. By introducing each of the book's seventy chapters with maxims from Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Cahndar, Twain encourages the prevailing treatment of Following the Equator as a source of quotation and anecdote, rather than as a sustained argument or coherent narrative. Scholars have often noted that Twain's travel writings rely in a "deliberate, crafted" manner on a "brilliantly imitated informality, free association, and casual indifference to coherence and connection" that is also a distinctive Arizona Quarterly Volume 61, Number i, Spring 2005 Copyright © 2005 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 6 10 M no John Carlos Rowe characteristic of Twain's humor (Bruce and Hill xxii). Even as such scholars admire Twain's formal and stylistic ingenuity in giving the impression of comic spontaneity and touristic naivete, they also claim that this "style of writing" stresses "manner over matter and form over substance" (Bruce and Hill xxviii). Richard Bridgman argues that Twain developed a style of "associative connections" in his travel narratives that enabled him to "examine the diversity of the world without worrying overmuch about such matters as consistency or transitions" (Bridgman i). Indeed, Twain's use of his travel diaries in Following the Equator, as well as other travel narratives, reinforces this impression of studied informality, deliberate spontaneity, even stubborn inconsistency and contradiction. By linking Twain's associative style with his humor, scholars have tended to background his political commentary, even though we know that Twain's comic value consists primarily in his social satire.1 "Jim Baker's Blue-Jay Yarn" in A Tramp Abroad (1888) is both a classic example of Twain's "brilliance" as a humorist and of Twain's digressive method in his travel writings, insofar as the anecdote "takes place in the Sierra" but "ended up in an account of a European walking tour" (Bridgman 1). But the frame-tale set in the "lofty Neckar hills" outside Heidelberg clearly links the teller Mark Twain both with his Sierra Nevada narrator, Jim Baker, and with the blue-jay mocked by his friends at the end of Baker's tale. Mocked by German ravens while wandering about the German forest—ravens with even better language skills than Poe's—Twain establishes subtly the form of the entire story as an animal fable, in which the moral point is always directed at humans. Twain's twist on the conventional fable is to tell a story employing birds—ravens and blue-jays—that will "answer" the German raven's insulting complaint, '"Well, what do you want here?'" ("BlueJay Yarn" r7r), with the usual writer's justification that he is merely gathering material for his work. The substance ofTwain's story is unsurprisingly the universal characteristic ofhuman folly, but in this case the interrelated tendencies of human beings to throw good money (or acorns or effort?) after bad and to fail to learn from similar behavior by others. Jim Baker is a miner still working in the Sierra long after everyone else has learned the futility of gold mining, including his neighbor, " 'the last man in this region but me' " until that neighbor moved away '"seven years ago'" (173). The blue-jay is "'just as much a human as Marie Twains Critique of Globalization 1 1 1 you be'" and thus '"will lie, . . . will steal, . . . will deceive...