Mark Twain, the Dialogic Imagination, and the American Classroom

Authors

  • Drew Clifton Colcher Wichita State University

Keywords:

Mark Twain, Mikhail Bakhtin, semiotics, novelism, American literature, literary theory, pedagogy, literary criticism, modernism, realism, structuralism

Abstract

Mark Twain is often read as a provincial realist or naturalist whose works are disseminated in simplified versions as children's stories or seen as humorous social criticism of the southern United States and its dialects. This article focuses on two of Twain’s novels—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger (published posthumously with various titles)—in order to focus on the more modern, less provincial, novelistic aspects of Twain’s writing. The theories of Mikhail Bakhtin provide the background for a characterization of the novelistic nature of these works in an effort to re-focus Twain criticism away from realist or naturalist analysis and toward semiotic and structural considerations. This essay functions as an introductory-level presentation of Bakhtinian analysis and Twain criticism, as well as a reimagining of the role of Twain’s writings in the classroom, especially in light of recent controversies surrounding the language used in works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Of paramount importance to this argument are the temporal, spatial, formal and thematic coordinates of the two books, and the assertion that they conform to Bakhtin's conception of the novel and how it radically differs from other forms.

Author Biography

Drew Clifton Colcher, Wichita State University

Drew Colcher holds a BA in English with a minor in anthropology (2011) and a BA in Spanish (2017), both from Wichita State University. His expected graduation date for an MA in English literature is May of 2019, also from WSU. During the 2017-18 school year he has been contracted as a graduate teaching assistant in the English Department. Recently, Drew has presented twice at WSU’s 2017 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Forum: once on discrimination against the Spanish language in Kansas (as part of a broader sociolinguistic project conducted by WSU professor Rachel Showstack) and once on an essay regarding Mark Twain from a Bakhtinian critical perspective. He can be reached at dccolcher@gmail.com.

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Published

2017-10-03

Issue

Section

Scholarly Articles