Mark Twain Analysis

654 words | 3 page(s)

Mark Twain’s The Damned Human Race is a text that seeks to employ satire in order to undermine

humanity’s conception of itself and its role in the universe as a whole. Indeed, it aims primarily to use the logic of the classification of species, something that was prevalent at Twain’s time, against those who would this same logic in order to argue for humanity’s place at the top of the animal groups. In order to do this, Twain employs a mixture of pathos and logos, and most importantly he generates a situation in which he uses a logical argument that is in fact full of pathos and emotional content. Although this strategy is rhetorically effective, this paper will claim that Twain’s argument ultimately fails at it does not reflect sufficiently on its own position and instead it posits historically contingent circumstances as definitive ways of understanding social relations.

puzzles puzzles
Your 20% discount here.

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
"Mark Twain Analysis".

Order Now
Promocode: custom20

The essay beings with a mild tone that serves to demonstrate its rhetoric. This contains a degree of ethos as it is clearly intended to draw the reader into what will become, but at this moment does not seem to be, a polemic against the pretensions and violence of human kind. Twain writes ‘I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the lower animals (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me’ (2015). This result is humiliating because he claims that he is unable to follow the usual Dawinian assumption that humanity should be considered to be the highest of the animal species and that he is, instead forced, to admit it is actually the lowest. As such, it is possible to see a subtle combination of logos, ethos and pathos at work in Twain’s opening. While he appears to be primarily concerned with an objective view point, this objectivity contains a pejorative content. In this way, it is possible to see that he argument works via a process in which he makes both logos and ethos subservient to pathos.

This combination culminates in the essay in an example that Twain gives of an experiment that he claims to have carried out. This experiment consisted of leaving a group of animals alone in a cage together and leaving a group of humans of different backgrounds and opinions alone in the similar cage. While he notes that the animals were able to live in peace, he reports that the humans left behind them a ‘chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh; not a specimen left alive’ (ibid). In this sense, Twain means to argue that human beings, although they understand themselves to be the most evolved species in the world and although it is they themselves who develop the scientific categories by which the judge others, necessarily fail according to their own standards.

While this argument may be rhetorically effective, I would argue that it contains a fallacy that should be exposed. This fallacy is the belief that all human relations can be abstracted from their socio-economic circumstances and that conflicts that emerge may be devolved into differences of opinion. It is certainly true that human history is marked by violence and an inability to live in peace, however this history is also marked by varying degrees of access to wealth and privilege. It is equally possible that this inequality, which was, and remains, historically contingent, can be taken to be the primary cause for the defect that Twain locates in humanity.

It is possible to conclude therefore by arguing that, while Twain clearly understands the nature of conflict and is able to subvert logic effectively he commit the fallacy of assuming that contingent historical relations should be taken as a mark of a fundamental and immutable human nature. Because of this, his essay should be taken as a skilful piece of rhetoric but as an unconvincing argument.

puzzles puzzles
Attract Only the Top Grades

Have a team of vetted experts take you to the top, with professionally written papers in every area of study.

Order Now