Monday, September 27, 2010

Twain, Life on the Mississippi, Day#2

--In chapter IX, Twain describes the detailed, analytic and utilitarian knowledge of the river he gained from his training as a pilot and considers whether what he has gained was worth it, coming as it did with the loss of the capacity to enjoy it as beautiful scenery. Consider what kind of knowledge or understanding a place you value more and explain why.

--What kind of experience of a place does steamboat piloting give Twain? How does he convey the South through his view from the river?

--Like Thoreau, Twain's narrative contains or deals with the death of a brother. What do you make of his narrative of his brother's death (one that he narrowly avoided himself)? Compare Twain's version to Thoreau's submerged narrative of mourning.


  1. 1. I think I value the detailed, analytic, and utilitarian understanding of a place equally as much as an emotional or spiritual understanding of a place, but mainly in moderation. I think in understanding a place and what it means to be there and to be affected by a place, one needs to not rely on just one way of looking at or understanding the place. If you focus solely on, say, the utilitarian knowledge of a farm on a lake, you would only recognize the efficiency of the crop-gridding, the means of transportation on the farms, the purpose of the buildings and people living in the place, etc. On the other hand, someone who didn't know what a farm was would not understand necessarily how the place worked but could still recognize the intrinsic beauty of the large pastures of crops, the land on the lake, the sunset and the framing of the trees around, etc. I think I really try to let a place make an impression on me, and that may be through practical knowledge or emotional resonance. But I think depending too much on either one makes a person miss a lot and overlook certain things about a place that really make the place what it is.

  2. I agree with the first post in some ways, at least from how I'm interpreting the post. I would agree that focusing strictly on one or the other, emotion or knowledge, one could certainly miss out on some aspects which make a place so great. And, a combination of both knowledge and emotion about a place, such as a river, can make that place majestic in both sense and intellect.

    However, with that said, I begin to look at it differently in focusing exactly on Twain's words. The knowledge he gains, in my mind, makes him begin to view the river as work, or a job, and no longer enjoyable. "All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!" (p. 54), and then continues a page later, "No the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness ..." (55).

    Following that he then goes on to talk about his pity for doctors and how they most likely can no longer see beauty in a person's face (cheek). In this rambling, what I am trying to say, is the knowledge one gains about a place that they originally may see as beautiful or majestic, can be beneficial and make someone value that place more. However, too much knowledge or distasteful knowledge even if minimal, can effect one's idea of a place negatively. For instance in drawing from my blog, if I were to begin working as a grounds keeper on a baseball field, I may begin to gain knowledge I wish to leave unknown. Whereas just playing on the field, I still love it and think of it as a great place.

  3. Right off the bat, Twain gives an emotional account of the river itself. Not to copy what was already posted, but I too noticed a difference in opinion on pp. 54-55 as Twain says "All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!" On one hand we see Twain with sort of a negative view toward the river, where he gives (p. 55) note of how his views of everything from how the sun shines to how the moon glows, to the logs in the river have changed meanings to him. It is a downward spiral of events as he talks about how one day he began to "cease from noting the glories and the charms" and the next day he "ceased altogether to note them." Did his time on the river seem to take away his appreciation of the little things and cause him to take what he had learned as a pilot for granted? At the same time, when he gives this account, it seems that whether that theory is true or not, he has not only found new and smarter ways to view nature and the obstacles within the river to better himself as a pilot, but in fact learned more than he is giving himself credit for.

    For myself, my home back in Kansas City has changed upon coming to college. Before, it was the same peaceful town where I knew everybody, knew where everything was, what there was to do, and I had an emotional attachment to the atmosphere of the city itself. Now, when I come home to visit my mother, it seems that not only can I still identify with that emotional feel, but at the same time I feel somewhat like an outsider. I have an outside view because everytime I come home (which isn't that often), there is always a new housing development, a new store or shopping center, maybe a neighbor or two has moved away; even my old high school has changed its look and feel. All this change had nothing to do with anything I did. I simply went off to college to pursue higher education. At the same time I can relate to the "been there, done that" attitude Twain gives with his account of the river when I go home, because in some way, home is like my river. I have the emotional attachment to everything from the smells, the sights, the people, even the night sky outside on my back deck, but I feel a sense of loss when I come back after being gone so long.

  4. Twain's time on the steamboat changed how he thought about everything. He went from seeing the steamboat and his voyages on it as magical, to work. The river loses its magic once Twain understands what goes in to piloting on the river. It is sort of like when we are kids, and then once we grow up we understand more and we find out that nothing is as magical as it once seemed. No matter what we do, or what Twain tried to do could bring back that feeling, that magic.

    Twain does not think much of the southern people. He does appreciate the south as a geographical location, but that is where it stops. The people are lazy, poor, ignorant, and are apart from culture. I think this is interesting because a lot of this is what we still believe today. It may not be as extreme today as it once was, but it is still present. It is interesting how ideas are passed down from generation to generation. It does not matter that the south has changed greatly from Twain's time, we still think just like he did. It shows just how much society does not change, and how much people are not willing to change.

  5. After our class discussion on Tuesday, I really tried to think about Twain's ideas on the river both before and after he learned so much about it. I came to the conclusion, that my job would be the only place I would want to learn every in and out about. I would much rather get the satisfaction and joy out of being succesful than to see magic in what I choose to be my vocation. When Twain became the pilot, if he didn't have all of the knowledge he required, but was still able to see the beauty in the river, he would have never been succesful at it.

    However, for everything else, I would be willing to sacrifice some knowledge in order to see and be able to appreciate the beauty and "magic" around me. Sometimes, I think the greatest things in life are things that bring us joy, even if we don't understand how or why they bring that joy.

  6. Anytime I've ever dicussed what i want to do for a career with my dad he has told me the same thing: no mmatter what you do for a living, there will be days when its just a job. Sadly I think this is what Twain went through. Most people love learning about the tings that make them happy, but at a certain point I do think that we can learn too much. For instance, I love going to Lake Michigan in the summer but I have no desire to see what its like up there in January. I get to interact with Lake Michigan as I see fit. The problem with doing something we love as a job is that the job requires us to interact with that thing in a certain way. A job that requires floating down the Mississippi seems leisurely enough, but when it requires being responsible for hundreds of other lives it might wear on the nerves a little bit. the right amount of ignorance really can be bliss I suppose.

  7. The way that twain writes about life on the river makes it easy for the readers to place themselves in the story. He uses sounds, voice description, stereotypes, and descriptive details about the appearance. From his writing, I gather that the people of new orleans are a very loud and busy community. I picked up on the Twain's view of the low value that is place on life by the way he portrays blacks and the way he describes the rush to get on the boat. The steam boat departure seems to be the event of the day. The book talks about people crowding around all of the unused docks and harbors just to watch it take off.

    I see a day on the river being very loud by Twain's description. Everyone is going crazy. No one has control over their children. The men are no men; they are merely males with families who don't step up and care about their families but rather leave it to their wives to care for. Twain seems very bitter about the south. I have been to New Orleans and I have experienced its loudness and chaos but my view of the city was much more positive than was his. I don't know what it was about his depiction, but it seems to show that steam boat piloting was not what he had hoped it would be as a child.


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