Before Mark Twain’s literary contributions, popular American literature had been heavily influenced by British text. Such writers, like the fireside poets, disregarded America’s diverse and complex voice in favor of upholding Genteel Tradition. Therefore, the majority of circulated works portrayed Americans as collectively adhering to a standard decorum, or a replica of proper societal conduct, found in affluent, white England. Consequently, these works were transcribed for and read almost exclusively by the wealthy American minority fitting this description. However, as the first major author within the Regionalist movement (893), Twain’s purpose was to “absorb” the United States (893) and to create stories for the otherwise flouted majority of its citizens. Twain’s works celebrate and criticize the unique nature of American culture by employing a narration celebrating American dialogue and humor, by using local color and examples of the Huckster. Furthermore, the Americans Twain presents are in some ways more moral or honest than the proper society they contradict.
Unlike fireside poets whose narrations reflected what they believed America should represent, Twain lead the Regionalist movement by arguing that American culture upheld an integrity worthy of creating its own narration. Therefore, Twain’s narrations demonstrate his nation’s manner of speech, particularly in the south, honoring and illustrating America as entertainers. In “How To Write”, he discusses the “humorous story” as American, which he hails as the most difficult (1048) because the art of delivery outweighs actual content (1049). One example of American narration may be found in “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country”. The premise concerns a practical joke played upon the narrator, where a friend of his instructs a visit to Simon Wheeler in order to learn about Leonidas W. Smiley (1024). The content primarily concerns Wheeler’s long-winded tangents and rambling, which could have been summarized in three sentences. In Regionalist fashion, this renders Twain’s piece significantly reliant upon Wheeler’s narrative, which is realistic in that everyone has encountered an incessantly speaking old person with absurd stories, and furthermore as Americans, everyone may also find the hilarity in someone suffering from an uncomfortable situation. Therefore, the work is much more approachable and accessible to American readers than other more romantic or traditional works which rely upon fantastical situations, and therefore establishing no common ground between readers and the majority of the plot. The Regionalist narration is therefore a more honest representation of human nature.
Another important aspect of the Regionalism Twain employed was the introduction of local color, or of minority voices, and the Huckster, which while being a realistic representation of a person, seems like a caricature, necessitate the usage of various improper dialects and concepts, which were previously censored by elitist, white writers. By publishing works containing these devices, Twain furthers his realistic depiction of Americans and offers them praise and critique. An account of local color and a Huckster has already been touched upon in the previous paragraph. True, Wheeler’s speech consists of numerous tangents, but these tangents would seem dry and irrelevant without his dialect and inclusion of immoral ideas, which further assist his honest representation of the common man. As Ragionalism typically paints a more accurate and less beautified picture of it’s cast of characters, narrator addresses Wheeler as “fat and baldheaded” (1025), which in turn indicates to the audience that he will be an amusing fellow. This description may appear as a critique of Hucksters’ idleness but may also represents an acknowledgement of American genuineness, as opposed to masquerading as a creature more refined than they generally are. Another example of critiquing and celebrating the uneloquent Huckster is the inclusion of Wheeler’s random tidbits and grammatical errors. Instead of sticking strictly to the story, he offers, without the concern of speaking correctly, information which may enhance the narrator’s understanding of him rather than the content. An illustration of this is when he says “I don’t recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume warn’t when he came to the camp . . .”(1025). Wheeler’s superfluous information and disregard of grammar may be a critique of the uneducated American. However, it is also a form of praise, as he is so involved in the conversation that he seems unconcerned with it’s length or it’s grammatical correctness; instead of speaking concisely, his dialogue is casual and open, making his character more realistic. This may be compared to polite society’s concern with impeccable speech. This would realistically leave most wondering if their polished companion was actually interested in their conversation, or if they merely wished to sound impressive. Furthermore, the time invested to create a perfect reply may rid a moment of it’s novelty. Therefore, one implication of Twain’s Regionalism is that Wheeler’s speech may be interpreted as more polite and genuine than those found in “proper” societies.
Another example of Hucksters and their commentary may be seen in the raftsmen mentioned in “Huckleberry Finn”. Of the thirteen raftsmen, one man was recorded to have been booming an inappropriate song about a cheating wife. Here Twain was offering criticism about the lack of respect Americans may exhibit in a real world scenario. A mix of positive and negative regard is demonstrated when the remaining raftsmen insisted the former cease his tasteless song and when one such gentleman declares he will physically inhibit the former from continuing his song. This violent man may be considered a Huckster because he appears to be intoxicated from his delivery of unique boasts, such as “When I’m playful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine, and a drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales!” (1034). Here the raftsman has exemplified very colorful interpretations of latitude and longitude’s abilities and infers that he is more powerful than several whales, all of which is completely false. Phrases such as these, along with recurrent descriptions of jumping up and clapping his heels together and roaring “Whoo-oop!”(1033) further define the raftsman as a Huckster, as everyone has witnessed a buffoon displaying his supreme juvenileness, and offers a critique on American childishness and its unbecoming nature. This critique is further emphasized when the Whooping raftsman reveals his cowardice, when on page 1034, he ceases a very short fight after his hat is knocked off, and is instead beaten by a different raftsmen who then forces him to forgive his singing coworker.
Here, Twain is employing Regionalism to articulate a few points. Firstly, if some Americans profess they possess skills they actually do not, they will put themselves in danger. However, he is also celebrating American integrity; the raftsman which forces the other two raftsmen to forgive one another never boasted his strength or intentions, but merely did as he felt was right without having created expectations. This humble American quality may be seen as more virtuous than the bragging nature of wealthy men who often declare their ability, especially before a duel, a variant of which was avoided in this situation because an American differed from those elite preoccupied with honor. Rather than preaching to his audience, Twain is offering realistic situation with which an audience can sympathize to elaborate on a point.
The American nature of which Twain writes is reflective of his love and dedication for his audience. Though his Regionalist celebratory works also include a significant amount of criticism, he offers his social commentary in the small, cynical hope that the common man may for it better themselves. The praise he does produce, that the common man or Huckster may be more decent then a member of wealthy society demonstrates Twain’s appreciation beautiful ignorance’s implications; a simple man may conduct himself more genuinely as a direct result of contradicting polite society.