Monday, April 8, 2013

Tom, Huck and Not Much Else

Trey Smith

During spring break recently, I ventured with my wife and daughters to Mark Twain’s childhood home in Hannibal, Missouri. The trip was great, and we all had a good time. There was one thing that rankled me, however: Twain’s political stances were scarcely visible in the place.

Twain was much more than the author of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.” He was markedly progressive on the issues of his day. As he grew older, he became disillusioned with his government and turned more radical in his views. Partly as a result of this, said the owner of the bed and breakfast where we stayed, he wasn’t financially stable even in his final years.

None of this is reflected in the telling of his life at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum complex. The approach taken is highlighted by a central item in the display: The picket fence made famous in “Tom Sawyer.” There is little mention of his outspokenness. Sure, there is some talk of slavery in relation to “Huckleberry Finn,” a safe subject to bring up in this day and age. But that’s pretty much about it.
~ from How Mark Twain’s Politics are Obscured in His Museum by Amitabh Pal ~
It is only in the last few years that I have come to understand what a radical visionary Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain's real name) truly was! I certainly didn't learn of this in school. America has a way of sanitizing heroes to reflect contemporary establishment values.

The same thing has happened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most people today recall him as a champion against racial segregation, but King was so much more than that. In his final years, King took the risk of speaking out against the Vietnam War -- before it was popular to do so -- and American imperialism. He also sharply criticized the aspects of capitalism which subjugate too many people into lives of poverty and suffering.

That King doesn't fit well into today's world. That king might stir the people to action. So, that King is buried very deep where few people will uncover it.

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