New for those who will be absent 3/15/11

Since so many people will be gone tomorrow and not be able to participate in seminar discussions of Twain’s work, instead of the regular make up, your assignment is to respond to one or more of the questions in my last post as a comment on THIS post. Everyone who is absent should make a substantive comment at least THEE times (but you could certainly do more!). The due date for this is Thursday morning. You may want to visit the blog a few times to see what other people comment, too. The idea is that you can respond to the questions AND each other–almost like the real seminar discussion.

This make up assignment is for this seminar only.



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33 responses to “New for those who will be absent 3/15/11

  1. Hello everyone who will be absent along with me on the ides of March. Let’s start talking Twain!

    To address Mrs. Martin’s first guided reading question for “The War Prayer”, the object of Twain’s satire is imperialists. More generally, he is satirizing the notion of asking God or praying for something good to happen. Twain points out through the “unnaturally pale” man that whenever we hope to set the curve on a test or hope to win a battle, we are indirectly hoping to inflict pain on others. In the second to last paragraph on the second page, Twain writes, “If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time.” I suppose the overall moral is one should consider the implications (vocabulary word) of his wishes and think selflessly.

    What do you guys think? Is this satirical piece more Horatian or Juvenal?

    Megan D’Arcy

    • Actually, I just realized that the made-up girl in my research paper, in support of trigger laws to convert failing public schools to private schools, is guilty of indirectly hurting others by her own selfishness I guess.

      Extracted from my conclusion, where I make a full-circle ending, I write:

      “The balls in the bingo cage rattle and whirl like car keys left in jeans in the washer. Emily squeezes her clammy palms together and wiggles her toes anxiously, while quietly pleading, “Please, please, please pull number six. Come on God, please.”

      Just as the patriotic people in the church hope that their sons come home from the war “bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory”, Emily hopes her number gets pulled in a charter school lottery. She does not think about the other children’s futures; she simply cares about her own.

      Megan D’Arcy

    • Megan-
      Twain’s “War Prayer”, though correct when informing the followers what they are actually asking of their God with the lines of “blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!” , is very Juvenalian overall. As the magazines of the time seemed to agree when they firmly refused to print the writing, it is easy to find the evidence as the reader feels a drastic shift in mood through out the piece from hopeful and patriotic, to wary, unsure, and uneasy.

      – Ariel Workings

  2. Megan, you definitely did a great job analyzing “The War Prayer.” One point that I particularly like is how Twain mocks people for asking God for help. I feel like it’s the part that magnifies and brings the problem to attention–like eating babies in Swift’s essay.
    “The War Prayer” is definitely some fiery Juvenalian satire. The diction and syntax are so powerful, especially in the “exalting excitement” that he describes in the first paragraph. And then the religious/bloody image described towards the end provides the perfect contrast to the beginning.

    -Emily C.

  3. Megan,

    I agree that in “The War Prayer,” Twain satirizes “notion of asking God or praying for something good to happen.” Moreover, he also criticizes people’s inability to alter their glorified view of war. This is shown in the last paragraph, which says that “[i]t was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.”

    This piece, using phrases such as “tear their soldiers to bloody shreds” and “shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain,” is much more abrasive and juvanalian than “On The Decaying Art of Lying.” I think the fact that Twain gave the latter as a speech to a historical society, and the former took years to even get published serves as a testament to the difference in causticity.

    However, I found that the morals presented in each piece similar. In “On The Decaying Art of Lying,” the anecdote of the woman who failed to complete the nurse evaluation shows that seemingly good intentions (not saying anything bad to the nurse) may have horrible implications (risking the lives of future patients). Twain further emphasizes this idea twenty years later in “The War Prayer” with his rain and crop analogy, where the seemingly beneficial idea of wishing for rain actually harms others.

    Have you guys found any other similarities between the two pieces? Or perhaps between one of the Twain pieces and “A Modest Proposal”?

    Sarah Hayes

    • Alexa Thomas


      I found that both ‘A Modest Proposal’ and ‘The War Prayer’ both seemed more gruesomely written, possibly because both authors intended their respective pieces to be given to the public as a sort of ‘call to action’ of some sort, not to be torn apart and analyzed extensively by highly educated people.

      Alexa Thomas

  4. I concur; this piece is definitely Juvenalian satire. I knew the piece would be before I even read it because in the preamble it says ” ‘The War Prayer’ was never published during Twain’s lifetime. The general response seemed to be that the story would not be suitable for magazine readers”. I think it is more socially acceptable today to dissent against government policy today than it was at the dawn of the 19th century.

    Megan D’Arcy

  5. Emily,

    I agree that both “The War Prayer” and “A Modest Proposal” use shocking diction and imagery to bring the problem to the attention of the audience.

    Sarah Hayes

  6. How did you guys interpret the ending?

    From the last line, “It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said,” I think Twain is saying that either people did not understand the old man’s message or may be they did not want to look at the truth. The last line could also be Twain’s way of commenting that not only the people in the story do not understand, but the readers of this piece will not understand. Twain probably predicted his piece would not be published. Clearly, Twain was ahead of his time.

  7. “The War Prayer” was actually written at the dawn of the 20th century– but I agree that we are much more open to disagree with the government nowadays, as can be seen with satirical programs such as “The Daily Show.”

    Sarah Hayes

    • Sarah and Megan,
      I wouldn’t say that we are much more open to disagree with the government nowadays. Not to say that we don’t disagree with the government now, but to point out that they disagreed with the government then as well. Our freedom to speak out against our government has been a point of pride of America for a long time. The Daily Show was preceded by an actual daily show which was preceded by a newspaper. The time this was written, 1905, was the era of the “muck-rackers,” journalists and authors, who, along with general social wrongs, condemned political and governmental wrongs where they were perceived.
      -Christiana Tanner

  8. I think he was implying that the people in the story did not understand. I can’t imagine that he’d think the audience would not understand (after reading the piece of course), because this would defeat the purpose of satire. Twain is mocking people’s views toward war with the intention of bringing the absurdity of those views to light. If he knew it would not get published or reach an audience, what could have been the purpose of writing it?

  9. After reading Twain’s final statement in “The War Prayer”, I thought that it was another technique he was using in order to show the reader how ridiculous everyone else was being. By saying that the old man must have been crazy because no one could understand what he was saying seems to be another way for Twain to satirize the ignorance of the people in the church. Great comments Sarah and Megan 🙂

    • Twain employs a lots of alliteration in both pieces, but a TON in The War Prayer. This creates and emotional appeal, almost over-dramatizing the issue by use of exaggeration, achieveing satire. Twain also utilizes academic diction in On the Decay of the Art of Lying. This sets a technical tone, appealing to ethos in order to establish the argument that people tell too many petty half-lies.
      -Alexandra Zurkan

  10. previous comment: Christina Lo Piccolo

    Also, on a side note, Twain’s overall use of exaggeration really helped me, as a reader, to grasp Twain’s satirical tone. In both pieces, he used hyperboles which were meant to stick out to the audience. For example, in “The Decay of the Art of Lying”, Twain uses “iron-souled truth-monger” to give an exaggerated description of the typical truth teller.

  11. meredithwhite

    I think the reason why “The War Prayer” was not published during Twain’s lifetime was because the whole piece was negative propaganda for the war, not because it was “unsuitable for magazine readers.” The officials in high places didn’t want their citizens thinking of the war as a bad thing…they wanted support, and this passage reveals all the horrors.

    • meredithwhite

      The whole passage crazily switches gears…first it’s continually praising the war “in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism” and “volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor” and then the truth comes out “cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead” and “wring the hearts of unoffending wideows with unavailing grief”…it portrays polar opposites so quickly.

      I also found it ironic because, this messanger of God, who advocates prayer, is basically saying, “Praying for protection is praying to hurt someone else.” And it leaves you thinking…is that a good thing? Should I not pray?

      I really enjoyed “The War Prayer”…;)

    • Meredith-
      I am not sure i completely agree with you on why the magazines refused to publish his work. Personally, i felt while reading it, that the reasons were more because a publisher did not want to scare off his readers with such graphic and obvious displays against a common occurrence as praying. I believe that the magazines were afraid the readers would take the principles of the article and apply them to other things that they pray for and, by doing so, then avoid reading the magazine later for fear of other blatant but happily ignored truths being brought to light through such satire. The government, based on the introductory paragraph given, had little to no say in the magazine’s publication as if they had, it would begin internal problems with the idea of free speech; similar to the current case of WikiLeaks.

    • Alexa Thomas


      I agree with you. In AP US History, we just covered this war. The Philipine-American War was projected as a great step toward imperialism, or colonizing uncivilized lands. In the great rush for colonies and water territory between world powers, the United States surely did not want or need a popular anti-war author stomping on their plans.

      Alexa Thomas

  12. For On the Decay of the Art of Lying, I thought that the audience was the American upper-class. It was very harsh and biased, so I would classify it as juvenailian. It is much more blatantly caustic than the War Prayer, even though they are both juvenailian.

    I feel like in The War Prayer the speaker tells the story in a much more objective way, and in On the Decay of the Art of Lying, the speaker is much more direct, almost like a letter.

    • Alexandra-
      I also thought that the intended audience is that of the upper-class Americans. However, i believe that the audience could also include that of the average person around the world. By bringing up the common day occurrence of asking how someone may be and “you [making] no conscientious diagnostic of your case, but [answering] at random”does in fact bring everyone into his pool of readers. Thus, his idea that “we are all liars” is brought into light.
      As to the way the speaker informs his reader, i agree with you entirely.

      • I agree that the intended audience is a bit more general. Twain repeatedly points out that everyone lies.

        Twain is satirizing social etiquette. He points out that it is more acceptable to lie in order to be polite than it is to speak one’s mind and hurt others. Twain writes, “The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.” This is ironic because if in order to act in accordance with society, one must lie, then lying is good behavior. Of course, we know lying is a vice.

        Verbal irony can also be seen as a form of lying. Twain writes:

        “If a stranger called and interrupted you, you said with your hearty tongue, ‘I’m glad to see you,’ and said with your heartier soul, ‘I wish you were with the cannibals and it was dinner time.’ When he went, you said regretfully, “Must you go?” and followed it with a ‘Call again’.”

        Saying the opposite of what you mean is a rough definition of verbal irony. As Twain points out, in the quoted text above, being fake polite is lying. He comments that lying in this instance is the right thing to do.

        Megan D’Arcy

  13. I also would agree that the audience is more general. However, the pre-reading text says that “Mark Twain’s 1885 address [was] to the Historical and Antiquarian Society of Hartford, Connecticut.” Twain also satirically uses this specific audience in his speech repeatedly. For example, at the beginning he says, “It would not become to me to criticize you, gentlemen–who are nearly all my elders–and my superiors, in this thing…” He is referring to lying here, I believe, saying that the gentlemen he is addressing are better at maneuvering through “the art of lying” than he. I may be grasping at straws in this assumption, but, as the society was based in Hartford, fairly close to Harvard I think?, the society may have been made up of some graduates, law students, etc. Even if that connection did not exist, I looked up other Antiquarian Societies and many seem to have their roots in some aspect of the law, whether that means being made up of lawyers, or just active community members, etc.

    Anyway, my point is that I think he had this speech angled at those members of the community. At one point, Twain says the following: “What chance have I against Mr. Per—against a lawyer?” I can only assume that Mr. Per—I mean a lawyer… was in the audience. Although this piece fantastically falls under Horatian humor, I feel like a more serious undertone may exist… here, again, I might be grasping at straws, but Twain refers to “judicious” lying– “judicious” I first assumed to mean “wise.” Later, I felt that there was a pun on “judicious” as it could either mean “wise” or it could refer to our justice system. As it is possible that his audience was a group of lawyers, maybe his entire point was to indirectly and humorously emphasize all of the points of this piece in addition to relaying the message that they must be careful how they interpret the lies people tell and maybe impress upon them that sometimes a lie is okay if it had a good impact.

    Again in my opinion, in doing this Twain further highlights the imperfections of the judicial system in our country. Just because someone lies or does something wrong doesn’t mean it wasn’t for good reason and didn’t have a positive impact…

    Alright, do you guys agree or am I completely off-base? 🙂

    Lindsey Scullen

  14. Sarah, I agree with your interpretation of “The War Prayer.” it very much focuses on the misinterpretation of God’s intentions as related war. In doing so it further attacks or at least makes note of the hypocrisy of how religion was practiced at this time furthermore connecting the hypocrisy of how “patriotism” guided the country to destroy another people. The patriotic vocabulary such as “flag” “hero” etc, juxtaposed to words such as “foe” etc, makes his point clear as it highlights the lack of reason to view the philippines as an enemy indirectly blaming it on the distraction patriotism provided. This corresponds to Twain’s repetition that Alexandra touched upon, I believe.

  15. That was Lindsey again btw 🙂

  16. Melissa Daily

    I understand what you are saying completely. I actually didn’t really notice the legal ties as I was reading, but now that I look back I definitely see a conversational tone to the audience, which, like you said, could have been lawyers. He is addressing the legal system/lawyers in America throughout the paper, however, I’m not totally sure that was his only audience. When he says “Lying is universal–we all do it,” I feel like he could be talking to a much larger audience. Interesting point though, especially with the pun on the word judicious.

    –Melissa Daily

  17. Melissa Daily

    The ending of The War Prayer really confused me actually, but I concluded that the prayer was so contradictory that they believe the man was a “lunatic.” Especially during the last paragraph of the prayer when the man begins to use gruesome imagery. By using phrases such as ” help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the sheiks of their wounded, writhing in pain,” it emphasized the absurdness in praying to win a war, and the irony in asking God to help them kill. It wasn’t necessarily that others weren’t thinking it, but once they heard how outrageous it sounded it made them rethink. This was Twain’s objective.

    –Melissa Daily

  18. Melissa,
    I agree that the purpose of the last paragraph was to make readers think. The “lunatic” that speaks to the gathered people at this church is clearly condemning the act of praying for victory in the war by trying to point out to the audience that praying for victory for the U.S, is also praying for harm to others. This is shown in his final words,”‘Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High awaits,'” which convey a ‘is this really what you would pray to god for?’ sort of indictment. Twain’s speaker dismisses the lunatic’s words by calling him a lunatic, which connects back to the speaker’s earlier pro-war reference to the few protesters of the war who “ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt its righteousness” and were quickly reprimanded (Twain actually being one of the protesters).

    At least that’s what I took from it 🙂
    -Christiana Tanner

    • Alexa Thomas


      I agree with you! By calling the man a lunatic, it does seem like the people listening to him realize what they are praying for is wrong. Prayer, now and back then, is seen as something that must be positive, for God loves all this creatures. Therefore, one should not pray for the death of another. While the supposedly ‘religious’ people doing this know their wrong doings, they feel they must support their country and the majority around them, and so the minority group that speaks out against war is automatically assumed crazy, even when they are right.

      Alexa Thomas

  19. Melissa Daily

    I agree that The Prayer War is more similar to Swift’s A Modest Proposal than Twain’s speech The Decaying Art of Lying. They are both using satire to draw attention to the audience. The use of imagery throughout the prayer shows just how contradictory people are acting. I would also classify it as Juvenalian satire, but unlike Swift, I don’t feel the sharp harsh tone I felt while reading A Modest Proposal. Maybe it’s just because eating babies seems slightly more absurd than praying to kill, either way, they share similar qualities.
    –Melissa Daily

  20. I thought the “lunatic’s” speech was interesting in itself. It is a very periodic speech. Not only does his point (which is not revealed until the fourth paragraph of his speech a little ways in when he starts saying “O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds…”) contradict the common person’s to the point that he or she may not understand, as you guys have mentioned, but he rambles on about what they have done for three paragraphs prior to revealing it! Personally, if I had heard this man speak, I would have declared him a lunatic before he actually got to the point he was trying to make. He talks in circles for a while. Maybe that is another one of Twain’s intentions? Maybe he is saying that the way in which people tried to combat imperialism was ineffective in addition to everything you all already said about the character of the audience. Just a thought. I still think his focus was more on the blindness of the audience. Also, his character may have been just an entertaining addition to the satire like we talked about in class today.

    Lindsey Scullen

  21. I don’t think that “A Modest Proposal” can be compared to these two Twain pieces. It’s in a class of its own. Swift’s piece is very obviously satirical, you can tell by the vulgarity of what he proposes society should do with people. Not only does he choose this to be the proposal, but he goes way to far in explaining it which also helps in making it humorous to read. The Twain pieces on the other hand are not as obviously satirical as “A Modest Proposal”. They’re too subtle. They don’t exactly have that hyperbolic and joking feeling to them than ideas like roasting kids on spits and turning their skin into boots and gloves.

    -Adam Sobilo

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