Controversy At Its Best

Mother Fanny Schneider and father Isaac Barnett Mailer, welcomed Norman Kingsley Mailer into his world on January 31, 1923, in Long Branch New Jersey. The parents had no idea that over the next few year that they too, like much of the American Public would praise and criticize the work of their son. Whether applauded or condemned, if nothing else, the writings of Norman Mailer was controversial. The two Jewish Immigrants from Lithuania have much to be proud of – seventy five years of work to be exact.

At the tender age of nine, Mailer wrote Invasion From Mars, a 250-page-story that he kept in his notebooks. A few years later in 1939, he graduated from Boys High School and won entrance into Harvard University at the age of sixteen. Leaving Brooklyn, where he was raised, he headed off to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the next four years. During this time Mailer would study aeronautical engineering until he’d receive is B.S. of Science with honors. While at Harvard, Mailer participated in Story Magazine’s annual college writing contest for students. His story “Greatest Thing in the World,” won and became the impetus that would change his adolescent hobby into a life long career.

In 1944 Mailer was inducted into the U.S. Army where he served as a gunnery sargent in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1946, he was discharged and took up a few classes at the Sorbonne in Paris. Over a fifteen month period there, Mailer reflected on his experiences in Leyte, Luzon, and Japan during the war. His vivid memories of the war, were portrayed in The Naked and the Dead (1948), who’s “triumphant release made him an overnight international celebrity” at the age of twenty-five.

Mailer’s huge unexpected success from The Naked and the Dead, catapulted him into the public eye and set the bar higher than usual for his next novel. Living in Hollywood, he wrote about the McCarthy Era and social tension in his 1951 novel Barbary Shore. Unfortunately critic’s expectations hadn’t been met, and they chalked Mailer up to be nothing more than an “one book wonder.”

Distraught because of the bad reviews and divorce from his wife, Mailer left Hollywood. He soon settled down with actress Adele Morales in Greenwich Village and the two were later married.

Their marriage took a turn for the worst after Mailer sunk into a deep depression. His third book, The Deer Park also flopped and he became increasingly violent and turned to drugs and alcohol. Contrary to popular belief that Mailer habitually beat his wives, there is only one known and documented case. After an all night party in Manhattan Mailer, grew violent and stabbed his second wife Morales with a “dirty three-inch penknife.”

During the 1960’s Mailer found a new purpose and shifted his focus to depict the rising counter-culture. He became a “New Journalist” who used novel writing techniques to depict real events and people’s lives. In his 1968 Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, Armies of the Night, he reminisces over his participation in the historical demonstration at the Pentagon in 1967. He along with Noam Chomsky and a slew of other celebrities were arrested for their radical views and dissent for the Vietnam War.

“Any war that requires the suspension of reason as a necessity for support is a bad war.”

(Armies of the Night)

When asked whether she agreed with Mailer’s quote about war, Nassau Community College student Laura, simply said “NO.” In my opinion the quote paralles the Vietnam War with our current war in Iraq and I agree with Mailer, that if a war looses it’s original purpose, it shouldn’t continue to be fought. Laura and I, are just some of the many people who don’t know where to stand when it comes to Mailers views. In the 1960’s there were many people who didn’t agree with Mailer’s political views, but that didn’t stop him from his quest to speak his mind.

Mailer continued to write about the sexual revolution, social upheaval, drugs and violence, in the Village Voice, which he named and co-founded in 1955. He used it as a means to give the public an alternate view. Mailer was a modern day citizen journalist who gave the people the facts about racial tension and anti-war movements in his underground weekly magazine.

Opposed to conformity he spoke out against “The Man” in Esquire and Commentary magazines. He condemned his conformist peers by saying: “There is no greater impotence in all the world like knowing you are right and that the wave of the world is wrong, yet the wave crashes upon you.”

(Armies of the Night)

When asked about this quote and its application to the modern media, Nassau Community College Professor Amy King said, “There should be a lot more citizen journalists and fewer sell-outs.”

Much like citizen journalists, Mailer felt he was obligated to give truth to the people. He decided to take his political ambitions a step further and ran for the Mayor of New York City in 1969. Though he used the catchy slogan – “No More Bullshit”, Mailer’s campaign as Independent Candidate was unsuccessful, yet he stil managed to obtain 5% of the vote.

Practicing objectivity, Mailer covered both the Republican and Democratic Conventions as a journalist. In 1963 he wrote The Presidential Papers based on the Kennedy Administration.

Moving on from Politics, Mailer focused on a new subject of controversy_ The Feminist
Movement. In Prisioner of Sex (1971), he discussed female inferiority when dealing with reality. Author Kate Millett, labeled him a male chauvinist in her book, Sexual Politics. The critics agreed.

Following Prisoner of Sex, the critics thought the sun was setting or Mailer’s career, but he proved them wrong with yet another brilliant novel- The Executioner’s Song. Norman Mailer’s 1979 one thousand page “true life novel” depicted the life and death of Utah murderer Gary Gilmer. Gilmer was executed by firing squad on January 7, 1977 and Mailer’s telling of these events, won him his second Puliter Prize. It was later turned into a film staring Tommy Lee Jones.

Norman Mailer’s earlier experiences with screen and play writing for works such as, The Deer Park (1955), didn’t go so well. However with the success of The Executioner’s Song, Mailer’s interest in the cinema was revived. In 1984, he wrote the detective story, “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” and later directed the film version.

Later in his life, Mailer again experienced unease with the state of American politics so he sought for truth and visited the Soviet Union. He said that the Soviet Union wasn’t the “evil empire” America preached it to be, but instead a “poor, third world country.”

Bestselling Harlot’s Ghost was a tale of C.I.A. agent which grew out of Mailer’s research of the KGB during his stay in Russia. While also in Russia Mailer discovered previously unreleased documents and used them as background for Oswald’s Tale (1995). These never before seen secret documents help Mailer write about J.F.K.’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

As a retrospective of the events and people that helped shape American History, Mailer’s 1998 collection, The Time of Our Times paints a portrait of America through celebrites and major events. It is Mailer’s own collection of works where he touches on several controversial issues at once.

In his later years Mailer choose to stick to fiction, but still remained controversial.
Mailer profiled the lives of Jesus and a young Hitler in The Gospel According to the Son (1997) and Castle in the Forest (2002).

After Two Pulitzer Prizes, four feature films, over forty books, dozens of essays and poems, we can conclude that Norman Mailer had a lengthy career. He was always at the center of controversy for his writings on vast cultural taboo subjects. Whether he was respected or renounced for his writings he was always courageous. He sought for truth and to give the people alternative views. He loved writing and exercised his freedom of speech. Though he may have been labeled as controversial, Norman Mailer spoke his mind and gave the literary world six decades of some of the best writings it has ever seen.

–Brittney Werts


George Orwell, An Inspiration to All

History repeats itself; however, its key players do not. George Orwell is the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, who was born 25 June 1903 in India while it was a British colony. He is considered one of the great authors, as well as investigative journalists of the twentieth century.

Orwell is best known for two of his novels; Animal Farm and 1984. These novels are famous for their contradictions. He explained in his essay Why I Write, “Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried…to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” Furthermore, 21-year-old Amy Eiferman explains that his work is “detailed but not tedious.”

Born a poet and author, Orwell’s life after childhood is infused with political inspiration. After failing to maintain his grades and receive a scholarship to Oxford University, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police, while India was still a British colony. He chose to be stationed in Burma, where his grandmother lived.

Throughout his five year career as an officer Orwell was exposed to the horrors of British colonial rule. In his essay, Shooting An Elephant, Orwell detailed some of the horrors he saw, “The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.”

My personal exposure to Orwell’s work prior to this article was only to his novels. I had no idea that he was also an excellent journalist, known for his reactions to society’s shortcomings. The topics Orwell wrote of ranged from social habits, to prejudices, and to politics. In Books v. Cigarettes Orwell comments on the fact that the average British adult spends more on cigarettes or alcohol than on books. A simple observation trying to explain the lack of reading by the British population.

Another one of his essays, Boys’ Weeklies, describes a particularly relevant issue in today’s world; the failure of the press to inform the public of the truth.

“The stories are stories of what purports to be public-school life, and the schools (Greyfriars in the Magnet and St Jim’s in the Gem) are represented as ancient and fashionable foundations of the type of Eton or Winchester. All the leading characters are fourth-form boys aged fourteen or fifteen, older or younger boys only appearing in very minor parts. Like Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee, these boys continue week after week and year after year, never growing any older. Very occasionally a new boy arrives or a minor character drops out, but in at any rate the last twenty-five years the personnel has barely altered. All the principal characters in both papers—Bob Cherry, Tom Merry, Harry Wharton, Johnny Bull, Billy Bunter and the rest of them—were at Greyfriars or St Jim’s long before the Great War, exactly the same age as at present, having much the same kind of adventures and talking almost exactly the same dialect. And not only the characters but the whole atmosphere of both Gem and Magnet has been preserved unchanged, partly by means of very elaborate stylization. The stories in the Magnet are signed ‘Frank Richards’ and those in the Gem, ‘Martin Clifford’, but a series lasting thirty years could hardly be the work of the same person every week.”

Take a minute to compare a newspaper from the United States, such as Newsday, and one from another country, such as The Guardian. The type of stories in one are likely to vary dramatically from the stories in the other. One may contain more criticisms of the government, more negative stories, and overall be less entertaining to the reader.

Much of Orwell’s work is relevant today. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” He learned fairly early that by recognizing his political bias, he can utilize it to send a message to his readers. Orwell explained one of the four great motives for writing, as political purpose, which is the “desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.”

More than fifty years after Orwell’s death, the political agenda being pushed in his works cannot be applied to today word-for-word, yet they are still inspirations to millions of people. But why? In his last novel, 1984, Orwell describes a totalitarian state in which the upper class maintains complete control over its populations actions as well as thoughts. Via a language called “Newspeak,” Big Brother maintains control of thoughts by slowly eliminating certain emotions and ideas from existence. How can a person notice bias in the news, when that word has not been used in an unknown number of years and has been completely erased from all documents and records? As Orwell wrote in 1984, “If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”

Our government today certainly does not use methods as extreme as those in 1984; however, why did our President suggest buying duct tape in case of a biological attack? Would it be effective in protecting the air in a house from this deadly toxin, or, would it scare Americans into buying duct tape and distract them from the failures of a war abroad?

Many long for someone to expose the lies being fed to people all over the world. Eiferman explained that there is “no expectation [for officials] to tell the truth.” Orwell once said, “I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention.” His story, and his work, must be known of not only to inspire the current generation, but to keep the spirit of true journalism and storytelling alive forever.

Limited Bibliography:


  • The Spike
  • A Hanging
  • Down The Mine
  • Boys’ Weeklies
  • Anti-Semitism in Britain
  • Books v. Cigarettes
  • Politics and The English Language
  • Notes on Nationalism


  • Burmese Days
  • Animal Farm
  • 1984

The George Orwell Web Source

– Brian Rubinton

Dorothea Lange Delivered Lasting Documentarian Legacies (and other two word phrases that don’t begin with D and L, respectively.)

From day one, I have been told by family, teachers, administrators, bosses, and just about every figure of authority that it would one day be my job to change the world. Well, me and the other hundred-fifty kids sitting there at graduation. And the other three hundred kids that sat in the ninety degree sun for my girlfriend’s graduation. Apparently, we all have the power to change the world. The opportunity, on the other hand, may not be so pronounced. So while each and every one of us can, only a handful ever actually will.

Dorothea Lange was a photojournalist in the early and mid-nineteenth century. Her work, unlike that of millions of other people, directly affected the state of the nation.

While Lange grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, she learned the art of photography in New York City. After learning the art of photography in Manhattan, she relocated to the west coast where she settled in San Francisco. She opened a portrait studio and ran that until the Depression hit. It was outside of this studio that she photographed “White Angel Breadline” in 1932. Lange then set out to photograph the conditions of the country and society’s downfall.

Working for the Resettlement Administration, a government organization, Lange went through California on an assignment to photograph the condition of migrant farm workers. The intent of this trip was to both document the accounts and to garner the support of the American public for government relief programs.

Photojournalists of today and tomorrow will forever be able to draw influence from Dorothea Lange. Her keen eye for composition and her intuition for capturing moments are inspirational and are also key elements in succeeding as a photographer. Apart from just being able to produce great images, Lange was an excellent documentarian. When out in the field photographing, Lange kept notebooks of her so-called “field reports.” These were concise and accurate accounts of her subjects and any relevant information.

This desire for accuracy and truth is part of why Dorothea Lange was (and is) truly amazing. Her work reflects her dedication and talent. In her 1939 publication An American Exodus: A Record Of Human Erosion, she and Paul S. Taylor, her husband, illustrated the hardships of the unemployed Americans during and after the Depression. Taylor was a sociologist and economist who was able to detail the conditions and causes for the strife highlighted by Lange’s photographs.

When presented with the photograph entitled “Migrant Mother,” Jared Auslander, a recent college graduate, studies the image for a minute before saying, “As an image it’s beautiful…I want to know what’s going on.” After learning that the mother in the photograph is only thirty-two years old and she and her family have only been surviving on “frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and the birds that the children killed,” Auslander is even further moved by the photograph.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

This seems to be the standard reaction for Generation Y…to view the photograph with some nagging suspicion of an underlying meaning. We are not only looking at images but looking for their context. When asked whether or not she found the following photograph visually pleasing, Amy Eiferman was quick to ask, “What is this a picture of?” Photographs have become more and more tools of documentation. While there is still creative and artistic freedom, photojournalists must make sure to be fair and accurate.

Whether or not there is some deeper message in every photograph taken, photojournalists must be constantly wary of this. While a photograph can have a profound impact on the world, it is the caption and accuracy of that information which determines whether that impact is positive or negative. As witnessed in tabloids and celebrity gossip columns, photographs can be taken in ways to mislead the viewer or misrepresent the truth.

Dorothea Lange set out to simply document the truth as it stood. Her photographs told the stories of migrant workers during the depression, Japanese detainees in internment camps, and many more. She photographed without bias, documenting both success and failures of government programs and ideas.

When asked how the photographs of today’s news struck her, Amy Eiferman said, “Photos today are very straightforward.” This fits right in line with the sense that news photographs are carefully selected as to deliver the intended message. It is not often that a photograph in a news publication is interpreted in many differing viewpoints.

Lange actually ran into censorship while working for the government during World War II. She was sent on assignment by the War Relocation Authority to create photographs in Japanese neighborhoods, processing centers, and internment camps. Because of her work which tackled the issues of civil rights and fair treatment, the government censored many of her photographs. These censored images went unseen by the public eye until the 1970s…well after the end of the war.

Photographers, like journalists, must be wary of their subject and the context in which they present it. Dorothea Lange showed no hesitation in shedding light on a controversial issue involving her employer; in this case, the government of the United States. This sets the bar at enormous heights. Photojournalists must be unwavering in their attempts to convey the truth with photography.

With the attention spans of today’s audience, it seems that photographs are becoming a single frame within a video. This becomes even more apparent with the new use of slideshows for all types of photography. Many news sites now employ the use of narrated slideshows in the place of articles or video. Other outlets use slideshows to allow viewers to browse through sets of photographs on their own accord. The AP has a daily photo gallery slideshow which has the top journalistic photographs of each day. These images are all aesthetically appealing and, for the most part, accounts of a newsworthy event.

Even in such a day and age, the photograph must be able to stand on its own. The still photograph is hesitant to be left behind.

In a commentary on his website, Jim Erhardt writes, “Steve McCurry’s image of the Afghan girl on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic Magazine is one that most of us will never forget…A single frame of 35mm film, it is without a doubt one of the most powerful and compelling images of modern times.”

And that single frame, that one shot…that’s what photojournalists have learned to try for everytime.

-adam michaelson

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When Were We Really OK?

Did ADHD and other diagnoses and disabilities always exist, or were they just shaped in a different form, morphed into different letters of the alphabet? When did the term “idiot” turn into “profound mental retardation”? Why did the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-Minded call what we now call “profound mental retardation”, “morons”? And what was the outcome or “cure” to being labeled one of these things? What happens at the early stages of a new disability or illness, where nobody knows what you have, and give (usually controversial) treatments that may make you worse off?

Once upon a time (circa 1900), there was no such thing as postpartum depression. Instead, it was called “hysteria and nervousness.” The cure was very different from what we have today, but helped mold one woman’s personal and painful voyage into a semi-autobiographical short story that also shed light on women’s rights.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author, feminist, mother and wife, born July 3, 1860, always wanted what was best for herself, her daughter and the female population. She was “sick and tired” of women perceived as being the “lower species.” “I agree that women are the lower species, because every society has had only a few female leaders where you can’t name many women. It’s not my critique, it’s in their societies views,” says Matt Fischofer, age 21.

Martine Antoine, age 27, was on the fence as a female who has seen and lived in a glass ceiling world in the entertainment industry. “Will females dominate in the future? Yes, Generation Y will definitely take over. Right after maternity leave, you see women going right back to work.”

However, after Charlotte gave birth to her daughter, Katherine, in 1878, she suffered from what we now know as postpartum depression. The cure called for no socialization with family, bed rest and eating, to increase fat volume. It was called “Rest Cure.” After one month, she was ordered to have her child with her at all times, lie down an hour after each meal and have less than two hours of “intellectual life.” This eventually led to severe depression where she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” to share with others what it was like in that time period, living with postpartum depression.

Her book that depicted life living with postpartum depression in a demonic way

“People should write about their illnesses, even if they have fictionalized details. If many people write about it, it will show it’s more common if it hasn’t been given a label yet,” says Brian Rubinton, 18.

Unfortunately, back then, there were no second and third opinions, especially when the doctor giving you a diagnosis was the most prestigious nerve specialist in the country. Scientific research on depression just wasn’t available yet.

At the time, some critics thought it should be censored because of its vivid details. Many of the critics were men, however.

Charlotte was often “frustrated with the public mind” and how it “moved like a slug.” Brian Rubinton agreed. “A majority of people stick to their own traditions and thoughts but it is different for urbanites. When you don’t interact with different backgrounds, you stagnate.”

In her essay “Women and Economics” she wrote, “Without going into either the ethics or the necessities of this case, we have reached so much common ground: the female of genus homo is supported by the male. Whereas, in other species of animals, male and female alike graze and browse, hunt and kill, climb, swim, dig, run and fly for their livings, in our species the female does not seek her own living in the specific activities of our race, but is fed by the male.”

Charlotte existed in a time where if a woman was lucky, she was able to take home science classes to “build strong bodies for her family.” Would classes like this exist today?

Matt said, “They couldn’t exist. It’s ethically wrong and nobody would take them.”

Brian said, “I don’t know because I feel some people would take them. A liberal arts major might. Some people might go major in it so they know how to raise a family. I might take a class or two.”

So when I asked Matt and Brian what would be different about their lives if the women in their lives stayed home and “cooked and sewed?”

“It would be terrible because they are in the work force and making contributions to society. It would be a regression,” says Matt.

“It would be weird because my mom makes more than my dad right now!” says Brian. His father is a lawyer and his mother is a property manager.

So we are on our way, females. So many changes have taken place over the last century that would not have happened without a woman like Charlotte Gilman Perkins and some men seem to agree. But now, we might have to change the term “husband” and “wife” because their original meanings are not true to today’s definition. According to a November 6, 1994 New York Times article, in 1898, husband, the noun, was originally a management title: it meant the manager of a household. The verb means to manage economically. Wife, the noun, was no title at all: in its obscure Germanic roots it simply meant “woman.” Its spousal connotation came later.

Much like how “hysteria and nervousness” is now known as postpartum depression except in this case it’s the actual definition that is obscure, not the label.


Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1898.

The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 2 Vols. Ed. Denise D. Knight. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.

Berman, Jeffrey. “The Unrestful Cure: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and `The Yellow Wallpaper. The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper. Ed. Catherine Golden. New York: Feminist Press, 1992. 211-41.

Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution

The Yellow Wallpaper (1891)

–Catherine Livigni

Jack London: a Man of Our Times?

Jack London: A Man of Our Times?

Nearly 100 years ago, Jack London fought for the lower class, bringing attention to the wide disparities between the rich and the poor. Now, nearly 100 years later, much of his cause has gone unresolved. With our markets in bearish trends, and our middle class eroding by the day because of soaring fuel costs, 2010 looks to be a lot like 1910. Jack London would be appalled at out current situation. If we look at his cause, we can see a parallel between then and now. We can really appreciate what he has done to give the poor a voice; and take note of it for modern times.

Jack London was born into lower class backgrounds in San Francisco, CA in 1876. His father was a disabled civil war veteran, and his mother a common house wife. He was primarily raised by an ex-slave, Virginia Prentiss. He attended grade school in Oakland for a brief time. After grade school, he was primarily self-educated. He taught himself to read and write at the public library. It was there that he came across his literary inspiration: Signa. It was about a young peasant child who rose from poverty to become a famous opera composer.

As a teen, he spent much of his time sailing the Pacific to make money. He eventually made enough to attend High School. After graduating, he went to Berkeley, but was forced to drop out due to financial restraints. This forced him to seek work in the gold mines, where he wrote his first stories. Eventually he wrote his first book: Martin Eden.

It was published. He wrote more books after his first success, most notably The Call of the Wild. Eventually, he became wealthy, a staple in the upper echelon of society. Only, he realized that his new life was no more glamorous than his old, and committed suicide at the age of 40.

As a member of the upper class, Jack found a voice in politics and social affairs. As a journalist and novelist he exposed the life of the average poverty stricken American. He also joined the Socialist Working Party in 1896. In his fiction novel The Iron Heel, he showed parallels between the rich of his time and the Oligarchies who stomped out the middle class. Though fictitious, his novel rings true, and not only back then. Much like Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives, Jack wrote his own depiction of first hand accounts of poverty. His account based in London, England as opposed to New York was entitled The People of the Abyss.

Aside from writing about the social class problems, he often gave speeches to further his cause. While touring the U.S. as a member of the Socialist party, he published essays about his findings. Two of the most notable were The War of the Classes and Revolution, and Other Essays. A man once from the lower class himself, he took pride in bringing attention to the needs of the poor.

Unfortunately, the Socialist party would never become a staple in our political system, as the Cold war and other problems distorted much of our views concerning socialistic values. Jack London (also a communist sympathizer) gave money to the revolutionaries who killed off the Czar and his family amidst Bloody Sunday. He called those people his “brothers.” These brothers eventually turned Russia into a communist dictatorship. Jack London never saw this happen. The heart of his cause died out with the greed that exists in all human beings, regardless of political beliefs.

With his main ingredient for change an utter failure, why are his achievements in journalism and politics so important to us now? Aside from his political beliefs, Jack London’s problems exist now as well. There is no significant voice for the poor. Sure, many of us pick up the ladles in soup kitchens on Thanksgiving, and when it counts, but how much are you really doing? This is not even about the poor any more. It is our middle class that is slowly eroding into the poor house.

This year is an election year, the economy is a key issue. This issue was essential to Jack London as well. However, with the complete elimination of any socialist party, millions spent on campaigns, and bribes from lobbyists on both sides of the political spectrum, it would not be far off to say Jack London would not vote at all. In fact, he probably would not even stay here in the U.S. I decided to show a few people who Jack London was. I gave Ryan, a student from Albany University a look into his life socially, and politically. “I think he would move to a country like France maybe”, he says. France is a country in which Jack’s socialist views have taken a strong hold in a democratic forum. This seems to be a very accurate guess. However, it is unfortunate our government will never mimick or mock that of western Europe’s social democracies.

So, with the gap between our classes widening, we need to look back at the times before the middle class. We need to look to Jack London, a man who lived the American dream, but was still unhappy because there was so many who could not live his dream. We live in a society built on cheap gas and free markets. There will never be a democracy like France (one that Jack London would find appealing). Yet, we can still see Jack London’s voice as reason to give the underprivileged a chance to speak, and not just in the election years. Regardless of who is elected, there is a good chance that the poor will remain poor, the middle class will remain at the lower or upper ends of the medium, and the rich will remain rich. It is us, fellow Americans who need to create change from the bottom up. So long as Jack London’s cause remains important, his message remains important, more important than any of our own selfish needs.

Mary Kate

Mark Twain

Jared Albaum July 30th, 2008

Professor King English 215

Mark Twain

Today’s political satirists would not exist if it had not been for the genius and journalistic expertise of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Mark Twain, whose life spanned the critical Civil War period in America, combined journalism and humor in such a way that he was able to mock politicians, American institutions, and human nature.

Clemens was born in 1835 in Florida Missouri and he and his family moved to other small towns in the South. In 1848 Clemens drops out of fifth grade and finds a job at a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. After writing a few sketches for various magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Clemens left Missouri to work as a printer in New York City.

His career as a journalist was sporadic. His personality seemed more compatible with political satire, a genre that enabled him to blend the news with humor. After a brief time as an apprentice river boat pilot on the Mississippi River, Clemens changed his name to Mark Twain, a term used by river boat captains to signify a depth of two fathoms.

It was at the end of the Civil War in 1865 that Mark Twain found his literary voice. That year he published a humorous short story entitled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Many newspapers in the country ran the short story and Twain became an overnight sensation. This short story was significant in American writing because it was one of the first pieces of literature written in dialect.

The popularity of the “Celebrated Jumping Frog” allowed Twain to go on a lecture tour as a comedian. He took his comic approach in life to Europe and wrote a travel book called The Innocents Abroad in which he made fun of the ancient relics of the old world that are supposed to be so impressive to tourists. For example when traveling to the holy land, Twain humorously notes: “to reproduce a Jerusalem street, it would only be necessary to upend a chicken coop and hang it before each window in an ally of American houses.” When he visited Venice, he noted that “the gondolier is a picturesque rascal.”

Mark Twain’s most significant contribution to American literature and to political satire today occurred because of his brilliance as a novelist. Twain is the perfect example of a writer who evolved from journalism to fiction. His earlier novels such as Tom Sawyer, The Innocents Abroad and Ruffing It are mostly comical in nature and do not attack American institutions in a serious way.

Its not until the late 1800’s that Twain’s writing becomes darker and more serious in its criticisms of America. One of the reasons that his satire became sharper may be the personal tragedies that he experienced in his own life. In 1891 he faced bankruptcy, in 1896 his favorite daughter Susy dies, and in 1909, his other daughter Jean dies. In 1904, his wife Olivia dies when they are traveling in Italy. The culmination of these tragic events and Twain’s overall disillusionment with humanity served to produce some of his most successful texts and set the stage for future political satirists who would entertain America.

The key text in Mark Twain’s collection is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which some critics have claimed to be the most subversive text in American literature. Through humor, Twain uses his protagonist, Huckleberry Finn, to attack such respected institutions as education, religion, the family, and the justice system. Twain also had the audacity to pair Huck Finn, a poor white trash dropout with a runaway slave named Jim. By making these two “dregs of society” heroes in his text, Twain thumbed his nose are respectable middle class literature. The fact that he used a variety of dialects rather than standard proper English also annoyed the reading public. In an explanatory note at the beginning of the text, Twain humorously writes “In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremist form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary “Pike County”; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but pains-takingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.” The adventures of Huckleberry Finn caused such a scandal in the American Public School System that it was banned in many high schools.

If it had not been for Mark Twain and his courage to dissect American culture, today’s political satirists would have had no one to guide them. Twain fearlessly pointed out the horrors of slavery, the hypocrisy of a twisted religion that allows people to worship together under the same roof and then to go out and kill each other. Political commentators like Jon Stewart and Chris Rock often tackle contemporary issues such as political corruption, torture, and greed through comedy. These same issues characterize American culture during Twain’s years. For example Andrew Carnegie once bragged to Mark Twain that America is a Christian nation. Twain looked at him and responded by saying “so is hell.”

Today’s comedians are quite as talented in pointing out the hypocrisies and follies of human nature. In his Letters From the Earth, Twain has Satan note that man is very strange: “Man has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights… sexual intercourse! It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water.”

Mark Twain has left such an impression on American culture that there is now a Mark Twain humor award given to the comedian who has contributed most to raising the political awareness through comedy. This years award is being given posthumously to George Carlin. One can only imagine the humorous conversations the two of them will have once they meet up in “heaven, or is it hell?”


“America’s Original Superstar.” Time Magazine 14 July 2008.

-Jared Albaum

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