Lighting Out for the Territory

Lighting Out for the Territory : Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture

3.81 (27 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

Mark Twain has been called the American Cervantes, the United States' Homer, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare. Ernest Hemingway maintained that "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called "Huckleberry Finn"". President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the phrase "New Deal" from "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". Twain's "Gilded Age" gave an entire era its name. Twain is everywhere - in advertisements for Bass Ale, in episodes of "Star Trek", as a greeter in Nevada's Silver Legacy casino. Clearly, the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. In "Lighting Out for the Territory", Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin blends personal narrative with reflections on history, literature, and popular culture to provide a lively and provocative look at who Mark Twain really was, how he got to be that way, and what we do with his legacy today. Fishkin illuminates the many ways that America has embraced Mark Twain - from the scenes and plots of his novels, to his famous quips, to his bushy-haired, white-suited persona. She reveals that we have constructed a Twain often far removed from the actual writer. This book is intended for scholars and students of American literature, and American cultural studies.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 167.64 x 243.84 x 25.4mm | 589.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195105311
  • 9780195105315

Review Text

A grab bag collection of musings and meanderings on Mark Twain and his continuing cultural influences. But Fishkin (American Studies/Univ. of Texas, Austin) seems too often more preoccupied with herself than with her subject. By the end of the book, we know about her likes and dislikes, her career, travels (to Twain's native Hannibal, Mo., and elsewhere in search of Twain and his legacy), family, and, by the way, some of her interesting ideas on Twain. These non-Fishkin-focused sections are largely taken up with an original and vigorous defense of Twain against charges of racism. That such a defense is even necessary is a sad commentary on our age's unironic obtuseness (Huckleberry Finn has been banned in many school districts): If a book contains the word "nigger," well then it must be a wicked book and the author a wicked man. Fishkin ably lays waste to these canards, turning up in the process irrefutable evidence of Twain's strong hatred of racism. Critics have often assailed Huckleberry Finn's long final section, in which Jim, not aware that he has been freed, is humiliated by Tom Sawyer, but Fishkin convincingly reads this as a satire of Reconstruction. Still, Fishkin's overwhelming emphasis on Twain as an "antiracist writer" is ultimately part of the same flawed zeitgeist that wrongly condemns him for racism. One of the 19th century's most original minds, Twain had a talent and breadth of his concerns that ranged far beyond such easy delineations. Fishkin gives some sense of this, but she is too concerned with boxing Twain into the narrow categories our age seems to demand. Despite Fishkin's scholarship and intelligence, Twain's own words on his work are perhaps the best: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Shelley Fisher Fishkin

About the Author: Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Professor of American Studies and of English at the University of Texas, at Austin. She is the author of the highly acclaimed study Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices and the award-winning book From Fact to Fiction: Journalism & Imaginative Writing in America, and is the Editor of The Oxford Mark Twain.show more

Rating details

27 ratings
3.81 out of 5 stars
5 19% (5)
4 48% (13)
3 30% (8)
2 4% (1)
1 0% (0)
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