Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark Twain: "Not Wasting a Watermelon"

By thunder, I admire this man, for he is my favorite author of all time.  There's no mistaking that face:  it is the master of Mankind's foils, the esteemed Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more fondly known as Mark Twain.  I honor him for his ability to tell stories and show the true nature of humanity: with forked tail, pitchfork, and all the trimmings of our deceptive capabilities.   We shall indeed see more of him on this blog soon enough.

This is one of my favorite Twain stories.  In it, he describes his rambunctious youthful nature as well as the opposite:  his brother Henry, who was the role model for "Sid" in Tom Sawyer.  As a writing sample, consider this as the main theme in your essay response: How did Twain show irony and exaggeration in this story (with examples, please). How did he use it effectively?  How does it lend to the story (in its entire summation and also the conclusion)?  

“Not Wasting a Watermelon”

When Mark Twain was a boy, he worked in a newspaper office in Hannibal, Missouri.  Residents of the town still point to the window where the incident described below took place.

It was during my first year’s apprenticeship in the Courier office that I did a thing which I have been trying to regret for fifty-five years.  It was a summer afternoon and just the kind of weather that a boy prizes for river excursions and other frolics, but I was a prisoner.  The others were all gone holidaying.  I was alone and sad.  I had committed a crime of some sort and this was the punishment.  I must lose my holiday, and spend the afternoon in solitude besides.  I had the printing office all to myself, there in the third story.  I had one comfort, and it was a generous one while it lasted.  It was the half of a long and broad watermelon, fresh and red and ripe.

I gouged it out with a knife, and I found accommodation for the whole of it in my person—though it did crowd me until the juice ran out of my ears.  There remained then the shell, the hollow shell.  It was big enough to do duty as a cradle.  I didn’t want to waste it, and I couldn’t think of anything to do with it which could afford entertainment.  I was sitting at the open window which looked out upon the sidewalk of the main street three stories below, when it occurred to me to drop it on someone’s head.

I doubted the judiciousness of this, and I had some compunctions about it, too, because so much of the resulting entertainment would fall to my share and so little to the other person.  But I thought I would chance it.  I watched out of the window for the right person to come along—the safe person—but he didn’t come.  Every time there was a candidate he or she turned out to be an unsafe one, and I had to restrain myself.

But at last I saw the right one coming.  It was my brother Henry.  He was the best boy in the whole region.  He never did harm to anybody, he never offended anybody.  He was exasperatingly good.  He had an overflowing abundance of goodness—but not enough to save him this time.

I watched his approach with eager interest.  He came strolling along, dreaming his pleasant summer dream and not doubting that Providence had in His care.  If he had known where I was he would have less confidence in that superstition.  As he approached his form became more and more foreshortened.  When he was almost under me he was so foreshortened that nothing of him was visible from my high place except the end of his nose and his alternately approaching feet.  Then I poised the watermelon, calculated my distance, and let it go, hollow side down.

The accuracy of that gunnery was beyond admiration.  He had about six steps to make when I let that canoe go, and it was lovely to see those two bodies gradually closing in on each other.  If he had seven steps to make, or five steps to make, my gunnery would have been a failure.  But he had exactly the right number to make, and that shell smashed down right on the top of his head and drove him into the earth up to the chin, the chunks of that broken melon flying in every direction like a spray.

I wanted to go down there and condole with him, but it would not have been safe.  He would have suspected me at once.  I expected him to suspect me, anyway, but as he said nothing about this adventure for two or three days—I was watching him in the meanwhile in order to keep out of danger—I was deceived into believing that this time he didn’t suspect me. 

It was a mistake.  He was only waiting for a sure opportunity.  Then he landed a cobblestone on the side of my head which raised a bump there so large that I had to wear two hats for a time.  I carried this crime to my mother, for I was always anxious to get Henry into trouble with her and could never succeed.  I thought that I had a sure case this time when she should come to see that murderous bump.  I showed it to her, but she said it was no matter.  She didn’t need to inquire into the circumstances.  She knew I had deserved it, and the best way would be for me to accept it as a valuable lesson, and thereby get profit out of it.


Anonymous said...

This is funny!

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha! I love this!

k.l.thomas-rice said...

I love this story! There is so much of it that reminds me of the days when it was just my brother & I. Good/funny memories. When we threw stones at each other, not bullets and because I was a year older, I was always the one that got the "don't throw rocks at your brother, you'll put out an eye" while he stood behind her, with his tongue stuck out! Then Big Dad would come home. I'd get tattled on, Big D would ask the really important question: did you hit what you were aiming at? Yes,Sir! " was it his eyes? " No Sir! Chuck did you aim at what you hit? My b