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Satirical view of America

The African American folktales are not only a cultural legacy but also a testimony of a social and psychological reality in the nineteenth century America. They attest the cultural clash between the black and the white race during the long period of slavery. Belonging to the oral tradition, they are not personal fictions but rather tales that speak of the whole community itself. Quite a few of these stories represent a contest in wisdom or wit between different characters. How Sandy Got His Meat, for instance, tells the story of a man who manages to trick and entrap the frogs on a lake, in order to catch them for food.

Other stories recount the conflict between a master and his black servant. These two characters, that are a part of series of stories having roughly the same pattern, are representative for the way in which the African Americans perceived their relationship with the whites. Notably, as in the animal tales, these stories focus on a particular trick or witty device performed by the black character. In Ole Massa and John Who Wanted to Go to Heaven, the white master is the one who attempts the first trick.

Hearing John praying to God to take him to heaven, the master plays a trick on him by disguising himself in a white sheet and pretending to be God himself, who has come to take John away in answer to his prayers. The tale is very humorous, concluding with the master in disguise running after John, unable to overtake him. The story contains many symbols and relevant contexts, including John’s wish to die, which recalls the very difficult life of slavery and the master’s disguise as God. What is also significant is that the stories usually make the black man outwit his master.

Thus, each tale reveals particularities of the African American people, their spirit and their wit. They are a symbolic rebellion against enslavement, bringing evidence for the blacks’ wit and qualities as a people. B. Mark Twain’s lashing irony is more potent than ever in The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg. The opening paragraph of the story introduces the main points of the irony. It briefly describes a village named Hadleyburg, which is described as supposedly incorruptible. Through this passage, Mark Twain alludes to human nature in general and its inherent failings.

The opening lines may also be intended as a satirical view of America and its claims to moral superiority, especially in the beginning of its history. The ironic tone is almost concealed under a serious voice of an objective storyteller. The allusion to the stubbornness of the inhabitants regarding to their incorruptibility betrays the deeply ironic perspective. What is more, Twain derides the notion of education in its general terms. The people of Hadleyburg keep their children away from temptation, clinging to the good and vain renown of the village.

One can already sense that this claim to moral superiority is false and that the villagers use it in their own interest. The community’s self sufficiency and stubborn confidence in its own uprightness is already an instance of their immorality and narrow-mindedness. 2. The stories of Mark Twain, The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog, seem very different in both content and style, at first glance. They do however share a few common elements. First of all, both of the stories focus on very witty characters, who manage to trick the others by means of their intelligence.

The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg is a satire unmasking human nature and its sins. The unnamed trickster takes his revenge on the seemingly praiseworthy citizens of Hadleyburg by simply placing a large sack said to contain only golden coins at the disposal of the villagers. The temptation is also accompanied by a letter and by a test, which would verify the people’s righteousness. The long series of lies and machinations that ensues offers a scourging perspective on man’s moral fallibility. Twain evidences that the majority of men will fall into temptation extremely easily, always pursuing their most immediate, personal interest.

The intricate device invented by the stranger seems to bring out the worst in people, making them betray one other, lie, dissemble, and accuse in order to satisfy their personal interest. With great humor but also with great bitterness, Twain discloses the inner workings of the human mind and its propensity for error and sin. None of the characters in the story escapes critique and all behave in a reproving way. The story seems initially to draw towards a didactic conclusion, standing as a moral lesson for the citizens.

Nevertheless, the tale ends in confusion, restating its initial presupposition. The Richards do repent of their immoral behavior and burn the checks containing the huge fortune. However, they also end up misinterpreting the only really generous gesture in the story, that of Reverend Burgess towards them. They also inadvertently do him another wrong, without realizing it. Twain thus offers a potent critique of human nature as well as a bitter social critique, unmasking the false pretenses and standards set by the corrupted body of society.

Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog is more of a sketch than an actual story. The story of Jim Smiley is told in colloquial language. Smiley is a curious character, who likes making bets on everything and who believes that any creature can be educated. In the end, he is tricked by a stranger who takes advantage of his gullibility. The two stories are therefore comparable in terms of their main motif: the witty trickster. ? Works Cited: Lauter, Paul ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 2. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

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