Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, effectively used humor to capture his audience; American citizens enjoyed his works, which criticized the corruption and injustice in American society. By writing with humor, Twain made his important insights about injustices, corruption and hypocrisy accessible to all, which made him one of the most popular and profound humorists in America. Twain himself observed that “my books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water.”(Cox 221) Because he had failed to see the injustice in American slavery and racism until he was older, he was left with a deep sense of remorse and shame for his family’s ownership of slaves as well as their overall involvement in the institution of slavery. He used all the injustices he observed as the fuel for his humor. For example, in Tom Sawyer, Tom and his black friend enjoy a playful and humourous interracial friendship, which strongly contrasts with the racism of the surrounding society. With his humorous, nostalgic and heartwarming stories, Mark Twain spotlighted the injustices in America, inspiring average American citizens to reform their society.
Like Mark Twain, David Sedaris uses humor as a way of dealing with his inner issues. Sedaris’ issues however, have more to do with himself than society. All of his humorous essays intone a false sense of narcissism which masks his feelings of low self-esteem. This low self-esteem, along with his dry sense of humor are products of his seemingly dysfunctional upbringing. According to the essays which depict his family, love and affection were replaced by mockery and sarcasm. Sedaris adopted his own brand of humor to cope with his family’s teasing. While his family’s joking was somewhat light-hearted, he also faced the judgment of a society that not only mocked his homosexuality but also rejected him for it. His issues of self-esteem stem from his sexual orientation and his speech impediment. Sedaris’ essays might superficially echo a narcissistic tone but ultimately they reveal a deeper insecurity grounded in his own personal issues.
Major Works Consulted:
Cox, Clinton. Mark Twain: America's Humorist, Dreamer, Prophet; a Biography. New York: Scholastic, 1995.
Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. Boston: Back Bay, 2000.
---. Naked. Boston: Back Bay, 1997.
Youngblood, Wayne. In the Footsteps of American Heroes: Mark Twain, Along the Mississippi. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library, 2006.
Photo Credit: Sedaris, David. Naked. Boston: Back Bay, 1997.