Two Views of the Mississippi

Two Views of the Mississippi Before beginning his vocation of being an author Samuel Clemens better known by his pen name Mark Twain, fulfilled his one lasting childhood ambition of becoming a steamboat pilot. Twain writes about his journey on the river in his autobiographical book Life on the Mississippi where in one section he talks about how one thing he would have to do is learn to distinguish the two views of the Mississippi, the beauty of the river and the navigational aspect of the river.
I believe that one of the main messages is that even though you may love something, as time goes on you lose the beauty and innocence you had one seen in it. He describes this message through the use of figurative language and well placed rhetoric as he juxtaposes the ideas of the beauty and practicality of the Mississippi River. Mark Twain begins the first section of this excerpt with the statement that he “had mastered the language of this water”, which in all reality is actually a hyperbole, or an exaggeration, because nothing, ranging anywhere from breathing to performing a surgery, is ever truly able to be perfected or mastered.
He uses this hyperbole at the beginning of this section to show how advanced he was in the knowledge of the river in that part of time. Twain then move on to use an oxymoron to describe the features of the river that he had “mastered” as “trifling”, or unimportant, saying that he knew every “trifling feature” along the river as he “knew the letters of the alphabet” with this he is saying that he knew all of these features of the river very well and to him they seemed irrelevant and saying he made a “valuable acquisition”.

He uses this language to show us that all of the things along the river that he deals with everyday are irrelevant and unneeded. At the end of this section Twain juxtaposes this statement completely by calling all of these features “useful. ” This language works because it creates a paradox with what he had previously said to show. This paradox shows that even though he may have said that this language is unimportant he actually does find it useful and needed in being a steamboat pilot.
Twain carries on to say that he had lost something also, saying all of the beauty that he had once seen in the river was all gone except for one “wonderful” sunset that he experienced when he was new to steamboating. He describes the sunset with a metaphor saying “a broad expanse of the river was turned to blood” saying that the river is actually blood; this also personifies the river giving the river the human characteristic of having blood. Whereas later in the section Twain juxtaposes and begins the next bigger paradox with this by saying later in the piece that all the sun meant was that they were going to have wind the next day.
Twain then describes the color of the water saying “in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold. ” He also talks about the other memorable sights that he saw on the Mississippi that night such as a log floating by and how in one place the water was smooth and there was a “slant mark lay sparkling across the water” and in another the “surface was broken by boiling tumbling rings that were as many-tinted as an opal. ” Mark Twain uses a simile to describe the way that the sunset made a tree on the shore look by comparing to a glowing flame saying that “a single leafy bough glowed like a flame. He uses other romantic words to describe the condition of the water and the surroundings such as “delicately traced” and “graceful curves and that the lights of the sunset were covering his surroundings “with new marvels of colors. ” The reason that Twain uses all of this figurative language and tools of figurative language is to in essence describe the beauty he saw that night in a way that it would paint in picture in the mind of the audience.
He then goes on to juxtapose all of these previous features that he witnessed during the subject by describing that all that the “floating log means the river is rising” and that “slanting mark refers to a bluff reef” that could “kill somebody’s steamboat” and he continues to explain that all of the other sights he saw that night of the sunset were simply just nautical phenomena that he must watch out for to keep the steamboat out of danger.. All of these sights and contradictions that he made conclude the large paradox that Twain had set in this piece.
These two sections also juxtapose each other in the sense of the style of language used. In the first section Twain uses more poetic or romantic type of language such as “river was turned to blood” and “single leafy bough glowed like a flame” to show and describe the beauty in what he had witnessed. Whereas in the second section Twain uses a more realistic style of language when he describes that all the things he saw were all just evidence of the changes in the river such as the sun meant that there was going to be wind the next day and the log meant that the water was rising or that the tree with the ingle branch would stand as a landmark to help guide him down the river. The language in these two sections differs so drastically because of the fact that Twain had gained more knowledge and experience in being a steamboat pilot and in his understanding in the river, and with this gained knowledge and experience all of the assets he had seen as beautiful and that astounded him during that memorable sunset had turned into simply just dangers that he had to look out for routinely as a steamboat pilot.
The language difference in these sections reiterate the message of this piece being that as you gain knowledge and experience in something you lose the innocence you once had and in turn all the beauty and enjoyment fades and it seems to become merely a routine. It also shows how Mark Twain first saw so much beauty in the river when he was new to steamboating that he was “in a speechless rapture” and how as he gained experience and knowledge the beauty that the river had once held for him began to slowly diminish until it was completely gone and became simply signs that he must look for while piloting his steamboat down the river.
Twain starts off in the next section of this excerpt describing the wonderment that the sunset he experienced had brought to him saying that he stood “like one bewitched…in a speechless rapture” and stated that “the world was new” to him and that he “had never seen anything like this at home. Not long after this he continues on and says that he “began to cease from nothing the glories and charms which the sun and the twilight wrought upon rivers face” and that “if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture”, this describes how he has lost all of the sense of beauty that the river had held during that sunset. He even says that at one time he altogether ceased to take notes of what he noticed on the river, which means that at one point he had completely lost interest in observing and learning about the river.
This entire section is a complete contradiction to the previous section in which he described the beauty that the sunset held and how “a broad expansion of the river was turned to blood” to saying that none of that was correct that that “the romance and beauty were all gone from the river” and it was merely just all in all signs that a steamboat pilot needs to look out for when piloting a steam boat saying “all the value…was the amount of usefulness it could urnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. ” I believe that the river is a metaphor for all things that are lost as time passes, because as the river lost its beauty to Twain, Twain also lost the whole hearted ambition that he had as a child to be a steamboat pilot. In the final paragraph of this excerpt Twain goes on to explain that all of the beauty that he had once seen in the river was nonexistent now.
He then explains how he feels sorrow for everyone who has had all of the beauty they once saw in something simply fade away from them to where they ended simply in a routine-like life style like what Twain had happen to him. He finishes this passage with four rhetorical questions using a doctor, which I believe represents society, and a beautiful patient, which is representative of all the beautiful things in life, as an example asking if the doctor ever even notices the beauty in his patient or if he just works strictly in a professional, or routine, manner.
He ends this excerpt with the most powerful question saying “and doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade” it is in whole the message of this piece saying that someone may see beauty or enjoyment in certain aspects of life, but as you progress in gaining the knowledge and experience you lose your innocence and the beauty and enjoyment you had once seen fades to black and that passion becomes a task or a routine that you have to go through day after day; in a sense it is saying is it better to know few details and see the true beauty in things or would you rather understand all the details but see no romance or beauty? I believe that by this whole doctor scenario he actually asking does society even see the beauty in life or do they simply see what they need to see?
Throughout this entire excerpt from his autobiographical piece Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain talks about his life as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, he talks about how he once saw such beauty and had so much fascination in the Mississippi River but as time progressed and he gained more and more knowledge and experience that beauty and wonderment he once saw began to disappear into just the things that became signs that he had to look for while piloting a steam boat just for safety. While doing this he has uses an extensive amount of rhetoric and figurative language to try to send a warning to his audience of the message that this piece holds. Twain uses this piece to warn his audience to the fact that as you gain knowledge on some aspect in your life you begin to lose your innocence, and with that loss of innocence something that may have once fascinated you so much may seem to lose the enjoyment it once held and eventually that part of your life will become simply a routine and machine-like habit.

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