Literary Writing Style of Mark Twain

The writing style of Mark Twain is unique in that it sets him apart from other writers of his era on account of the use of vernacular speech and the brilliance of dialogues used in his stories and novels. Some other features of his style of writing are diction, syntax, figurative language, rhythm, rhetorical pattern and theme, as given below.

Mark Twain’s Word Choice

Mark Twain is highly acclaimed for his diction and word choice. In terms of diction, sometimes he becomes formal, sometimes informal, while at some places, he becomes journalistic, showing a proclivity to turn to his professional expertise. He himself was highly conscious of using words, and specifically the right word. This passage from his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, shows this fact. It could be seen that he has used the word “bread” at the right place along with “work” which has different meanings here. This is an example of his formal diction.

I got a good place amongst the leaves, and set there on a log, munching the bread and watching the ferry-boat, and very well satisfied. And then something struck me. I says, now I reckon the widow or the parson or somebody prayed that this bread would find me, and here it has gone and done it. So there ain’t no doubt but there is something in that thing —that is, there’s something in it when a body like the widow or the parson prays, but it don’t work for me, and I reckon it don’t work for only just the right kind.

  1. Mark Twain’s Sentence Structure

Interestingly, Mark Twain is highly complex in his sentences. His syntax includes windy and complicated sentences with full and half clauses. It mostly happens in long sentences, but when they are short, they are very crispy, simple and straightforward. This passage from his novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, shows this fact. The below passage shows his long and short sentences. It also shows how he uses conversational sentences.

“Didn’t you want to go in a-swimming, Tom?”
A bit of a scare shot through Tom––a touch of uncomfortable suspicion. He searched Aunt Polly’s face, but it told him nothing. So he said:
“No’m––well, not very much.”
The old lady reached out her hand and felt Tom’s shirt, and said:
“But you ain’t too warm now, though.” And it flattered her to reflect that she had discovered that the shirt was dry without anybody knowing that that was what she had in her mind. But in spite of her, Tom knew where the wind lay, now. So he forestalled what might be the next move:
“Some of us pumped on our heads––mine’s damp yet. See?”

Mark Twain’s Figurative Language

Mark Twain is highly conscious of using figures of speech. Specifically, in terms of using images, he turns to sensory images to describe his characters. Besides this, he also resorts to metaphors, similes and even personifications at different places in his writings. This passage from is novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, shows the use of figures of speech, such as the metaphors of interest and misfortune.

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man’s are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time––just as men’s misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired from a negro, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed.

Mark Twain’s Rhythm and Component Sounds

Regarding rhythm, Mark Twain depends on different rhythmic techniques, which include repetition and polysyndeton. Besides this, he also molds his sentences to make them fluent, direct and simple, along with making group words to stand out at places where he wants. He also uses consonant and vowel sounds carefully to create rhythmic flow in his prose. The above passage shows the use of different sounds such as /d/, /h/ and /s/ in different sentences at different intervals. This passage occurs in his novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Pattern

Regarding his prose, Mark Twain depends on narrative and comparative techniques to make his narrative rhetoric impactful and strong. For example, he constantly compares characters in both adventures of Tom Sawyer as well as Huck Finn. Besides, he compares events and places and narrates them according to the nature of his audience. Regarding strategies, he excessively relies on repetitions, rhetorical questions and polysyndetons. The latent irony, besides these, adds to the forcefulness of his narrative argument. This passage shows the use of some of these techniques.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him––a boy a shade larger than himself. A new comer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg.
This boy was well-dressed, too––well-dressed on a week-day. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his closebuttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on––and it was only Friday.

Mark Twain’s Themes

Although Mark Twain is quite open in his themes, he is somewhat implicit in places regarding tabooed themes. For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin shows the theme of racism and slavery openly but of shame and guilt implicitly. It also shows his themes of hypocrisy, moral education, civilization, adventurism, and empathy at work when Huck goes through different adventures and comes across different people at different places.