A Critique of Mark Twain’s Advice to Youth

As stated by Mark Twain, “The elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time”. People have many differing views regarding the way a child should be raised, yet there is a lack of consensus among these beliefs. Some of the most prominent commentaries regarding the development of youth came from Twain himself, a popular writer of the 19m century and most known for documenting the excitement of adventure, and memories of childhood, and satirizing common beliefs of the era. Twain titles his speech “Advice to Youth” as a way to satirize popular advice given by adults; his “advice” demonstrates to the members of the Saturday morning club that while there are general ideas of what youth should do, they should really make their own decisions, shown by giving examples laced with oxymorons, anecdotes, and mocking diction. In his second piece of advice, Twain first claims that youth should be “respectful to your superiors”; however, he then satirizes this common advice.

Therefore showing he doesn’t believe in it-by telling his audience to “hit him with a brick” if they offend you, and stating ”that will be sufficient”. Twain’s Horatian satire is both an understatement and hyperbole, as his instructions are too outrageous to be taken seriously by his audience; however, he treats it seriously as if it were serious advice, which makes it humorous. However, in reality, violence such as what he talks about happens all the time: putting it in such a context as his advice highlights the hypocrisy of adults. This lapse of weight in his speech forces his audience to question whether or not it is important to follow the advice of the adults if they themselves sometimes use violence to resolve problems. He goes on to say to his audience that if they realize they are in the wrong, they should act like a “man” and “say you didn’t mean to”. Twain understates the situation to add comical effect because when taken literally, someone hit with a brick would probably be very upset. Furthermore, using the term “man” suggests that adults are irresponsible about their actions. Twain questions whether the adults of the United States are fit to give advice.

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