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Class: Freshman english
Title: Analysis of "My Uncle's Farm" by Mark Twain
In this essay, Mark Twain describes life on the farm that belonged to his
uncle, John A. Quarles. Twain spent three or four months on the farm a year
during his childhood, and he has many fond memories of it.
Twain first gives technical details of the farm: it was five hundred acres
or so and in Missouri near the town of Florida. It had fifteen or twenty
slaves on it. He then tells of the kitchen, and in particular, the food,
describing all sorts of southern foods he had while there. He says that the
food there was prepared very well, and that northerners could never make
southern food the right way; nor could Europeans. Europeans were always
ridiculing so-called "American" customs and ideas, calling their food
unwholesome, even thought they knew nothing about them. According to Twain,
it is better to eat fine foods that may be unwholesome and enjoy oneself
rather than to eat healthy and deprive oneself all one's life. He often
tasted the "forbidden fruit" when he and his cousins would swim in the brook
and wading pools on the farm that were forbidden to them by his uncle.
Twain then talks about his experiences with the slaves on the farm, and how
they impacted on him and his whole attitude towards slavery and Blacks. He
talks sentimentally about an old black woman named Aunt Hannah, who,
according to young Twain and his cousins, was over 1000 years old and had
talked with Moses. She was religious and superstitious, and prayed a lot and
was afraid of witches. Twain speaks fondly of all the slaves on the farm;
saying that he used to play with the black children, and they were treated as
almost equals. One particular slave who stood out was "Uncle Dan'l," a
middle-aged slave who was the smartest in the slave quarters, and had the
finest character. Twain used him in creating the Jim character in Huck Finn.
He remembers Uncle Dan'l as one of the nicest people he ever knew.
Twain then goes on to talk about his feelings towards slavery. He sees
nothing wrong with it; as in his time not many people, even the slaves (for
fear of the severest of punishments) ever spoke of aversions to slavery. In
his community, it was something morally and ethically O.K. He never saw any
slave mistreated in Hannibal (the town in Missouri in which he lived,) and
especially not on the farm. One incident he recalls is that there was a young
slave boy named Sandy who would always sing out loud, to no end. When young
Mark asked his mother about it, she said that it was good that he sang,
because it means that he has forgotten all the bad things that has happened
to him; that he will never see his mother or his family. She told him not to
stop him from singing, so he will not remember. This stuck in Twain's head
throughout his life.
Twain then goes on to describe some of the Tom Sawyer-like mischief he used
to get into. He used to take snakes and garters and plant them in his Aunt
Patsy's work basket. His Aunt Patsy as well as his mother were afraid of
snakes, as well as bats, an animal which Twain is quite fond of. To Twain,
the bat is no less friendly than any bird, and he enjoyed playing with them
and speaks highly of them. There was a cave full of them outside of town, and
young Mark frequented it. Many stories surrounded the cave: more than one
victim had gotten lost in there for weeks at a time, and there was a legend
that a famous St. Louis surgeon put the corpse of his daughter in there
preserved in alcohol.
Twain begins part two of the essay describing the swings that he and the
other children used to swing on-and not infrequently off of, breaking many a
limb. Twain never had an accident falling off, but the other children had
many. He then tells of the interesting and friendly medicinal system in the
south: each family paid $25 a year to cover all doctor visits and medicines,
which was almost always caster oil. The grandmother usually took care of sick
children; calling the doctor only when it was serious. One doctor Twain knew
of was a black with no medical training, who was the only person who knew the
cure to a rare deadly child disease. He and he alone knew the ingredients to
the cure, and was called upon to cure the disease. Mrs. Utterback was the
local "dentist," who cured toothaches by screaming "believe" while touching
the tooth, and miraculously the ache as gone. Dr. Meredith was the local
physician who Twain recalls fondly, who saved his life many times.
Twain then relates a very serious story, how when he was a child, until he
was seven, he was a sickly child who lived on medicines to survive. Later,
when his mother was eighty-eight, he asked her about it. When he asked her if
she felt uneasy about him when he was little, she said, "yes, the whole
time." Twain asks, "afraid I wouldn't live?" to which she replies, "No-afraid
Twain then shifts from the serious tone back to his humorous-anecdotal tone,
describing the schoolhouse, which he and the children attended once or twice
a week in the summer. He relates that when he was seven years old, he was
humiliated when it became known that he was already seven years old and still
couldn't chew tobacco. He kept trying to learn how, but failed, and felt very
hurt because of it.
From this point until the end of the essay, Twain relates, in a content,
sentimental, reminiscent tone all the pleasures of lining on his uncle's
farm, and any farm in general. He enumerates all the experiences he gained
from living on a farm, how he knows nature intimately from being one with it.
He lists for several paragraphs all the things he knows and remembers
from those months on his uncle's farm.
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