Mark Twain -- How Does Mark Twain Represent Realism in His Writing?

Mark Twain
Mark Twain. Library of America

Mark Twain conveyed realism in his writing through the language he employed in his stories: normal speech used by the common man rather than precise, grammatically correct diction. Twain drew on his experiences as a riverboat captain on the Mississippi to flesh out his stories. He also portrayed everyday issues, such as abuse, in starkly honest terms.

Dead-On Dialects

Twain used the correct dialects of the places that he wrote about.

If you read "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," for example, you find that that the story's dialogue is very Southern, but when you read "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," which took place in Calaveras County, California, the tone is very Californian. ​An important aspect of Twain's realism was his feel for language -- and for getting the dialects spoken at the time just right.

For example, when Huck Finn attempts to help Jim, a slave, escape to freedom by paddling a canoe down the Mississippi, Jim thanks Huck profusely: "Huck you's de bes' fren' Jim's ever had: en you's de only fren' olde Jim's got now." Later in the story, in chapter 19, Huck hides while he witnesses deadly violence between two feuding families: 

"I staid in the tree till it begun to get ​dard, afraid to come down. Sometimes I heard guns away off in the woods; and twice I seen little gangs of men gallop past the log-store with guns; so I reckoned the trouble was still agoing on."

A River Runs Through It

Twain became a riverboat "cub" -- or trainee -- in 1857 when he was still known as Samuel Clemens. Two years later, he earned his full pilot's license. As he learned to navigate the Mississippi, Twain became very familiar with the language of the river. Indeed, he adopted his famous pen name from his river experience.

"Mark Twain" -- meaning "two fathoms" -- was a navigational term used on the Mississippi. All of the adventures -- and there were many -- that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn experienced on the Mighty Mississippi relate directly to Twain's own experiences.

Tales of Abuse

Huckleberry Finn is an abused and neglected 13-year-old boy, whose father is a mean drunk in St. Petersburg, Missouri. We see the world from Huck's point of view as he attempts to cope with his environment and deal with the world around him. Along the way, Twain explodes social conventions and depicts the hypocrisy of "civilized" society.

The attitudes exhibited by Twain's characters are genuine and accurate for their ages and races. But, it's the dialogue the characters spoke, the way they interacted with their surroundings and the honest descriptions of their experiences that brought Twain's stories to life.