Amiable Humor and Dual Address in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Abstract: The humor of Mark Twain has long fascinated his readers. Critics such as Messent (2007), Budd (2005), Gerber (1988) and Camfield (2005) have all analyzed Mark Twain’s humor to reveal nuances and to help further the understanding of what makes Twain’s writing humorous. However, there is a distinct gap in the research so far conducted investigating Twain’s humor in relation to young readers, which this paper will begin to address. Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2007) poses a relevant subject for this research as Twain explicitly (in the preface to the novel) professes to write both for children and adults simultaneously. Writing in such a way can be categorized as either “double address” or “dual address”, understanding these terms according to the definitions of Barbara Wall (1991). In this paper I will argue that Mark Twain manages to create “dual address” in Tom Sawyer by using what Greg Camfield (2005) calls “amiable humor” and constructing scenes out of childhood in order to produce delight and nostalgia. By reading closely excerpts of the book and analyzing Twain’s specific use of humor through three prominent theories—superiority theory, relief theory and incongruity— it becomes possible to identify what the implied reader is meant to find humorous, and therefore if Twain manages to establish a “dual address”. An understanding of Twain’s humor from the perspective of both young and adult reader furthers our understanding of the novel by revealing Twain’s implementation of complex “dual address” narration and its implications.

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