THE CYNIC – Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. He was lauded as the “greatest humorist the United States has produced”, and William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature”. His novels include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), the latter of which has often been called the “Great American Novel”.
In any case, I do not know if Mark Twain was suspicious, distrustful, and wary regarding a grand or cosmic meaning of life or what many may refer to as God’s will.
It is known, however, that he was leery of major aspects of society such as religion, slavery, and human nature itself. He made a handsome living from his endearing storytelling about the meaning of life.
Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach in 1835; and said characteristically in 1909:
“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”.
Twain’s prediction was accurate; he died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth.
To understand Mark Twain’s cynicism in The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn it helps to know what satire is. It can be defined as a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn and to expose and discredit vice or folly. It is the style of satire that Twain employs as a tool in his novels to exaggerate and make fun of the many problems facing American society.
I wonder if Twain wasn’t really more of a cross between a stoic and a skeptic, somehow cynical because of an extremely witty mind. He certainly did not live in a barrel like the Greek cynic Diogenes. As an extremely perceptive liver/observer as well as gifted storyteller, Twain perhaps took his clues regarding the meaning of life from the strengths and frailties of human nature − to the end suggesting that the meaning of life is what it appears to be.