Twain’s Carnival of Exaggerations

Witty Mark Twain’s trickery usually got people to snicker or chuckle, but Twain’s carnival of exaggerations more often made them laugh. Twain used and blended many comic forms, including witty jokes, puns, ludicrous impressions, irony, sarcasm, satire, and understatement. But very often he relied upon exaggeration to great comic effect. Like many humorists before him, Twain learned too much of anything, taken playfully, makes people laugh.

But as mentioned in a previous post, a playful audience for humor is essential. For instance, if sensitive to the violent use of firearms, as many of us are after so many massacres at schools and elsewhere, a joke centered on bullets or buckshot might not be funny. So when Twain exaggerates his Pa’s attitude regarding a buckshot wound (“Pa’s got a few buckshot in him, but he don’t mind it ‘cause he don’t weigh much anyway”), his joke might not be funny if you are thinking about the horror and senselessness of gun violence.

“Mark Twain’s The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut”

Twain’s carnival of exaggerations is on full display in one of our Adapted Classics books, “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut”. Twain doesn’t restrict himself to the humor of exaggeration in this wild tale; he also makes ample use of ludicrous impressions, another comic form. But as an example of Twain using exaggeration to great effect, nothing beats it.

A passage from near the end of our adapted version of the story follows. Twain describes what he does after winning a battle to attain total freedom from all moral constraints.

I settled all my old outstanding scores,
and began the world anew. I killed thirty-eight persons
during the first two weeks—all of them on account of
ancient grudges. I burned a house that interrupted my
view of the horizon. I swindled a widow and some orphans
out of their last cow, which is a very good one, though not,
I believe, a thoroughbred. I have also committed scores
of crimes, of various kinds, and have enjoyed my work
exceedingly, whereas before it would have broken my heart
and turned my hair gray, no doubt.

You might want to ask yourself what makes this passage funny, even within the small contextual frame I provided. Clearly, Twain provides the reader with a carnival of exaggerations. Even if completely freed of all moral constraints, would anyone, could anyone go this far? For me it is funny because Twain takes us so far over the top, into the stratosphere of exaggeration. A carnival of exaggeration indeed! And Twain fills his whole ‘Carnival of Crime’ story with similar exaggerations, coupled with ludicrous impressions.

It bears mentioning that Marc Johnson-Pencook’s illustrations follow and emulate Twain’s exaggerations and ludicrous impressions every step of the way throughout the story. To give you an example, we conclude this blog with a Marc’s portrait of a furious Twain taken from “Mark Twain’s The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut”.

Twain's Carnival of Exaggeration

Furious Twain

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