In all of his writing, Mark Twain uses various techniques and genres to expose social corruption. One of the genres he uses is the detective story. Twain burlesques the classical detective character and the classical detective story elements to show that detectives are not really heroes; they are members of a corrupt society who create chaos instead of order. Twain believed that the ideal detective who symbolized truth, solved crimes, and established justice, was good.
But through his observations and experiences Twain came to believe that this ideal character did not exist. Instead, he saw corrupt, inept detectives, like Allan Pinkerton and his agency men whose attempts to solve crimes were mere dramatic escapades. Twain blatantly ridicules Pinkerton-type detectives in his burlesques, "Cap'n Simon Wheeler, Amateur Detective, A Light Tragedy," 'Simon Wheeler, Detective', and "The Stolen White Elephant."
Though these burlesques seem to be exaggerated, they are based on fact. According to Twain, the tragedy about such detectives is that they are heroes in the public eye, and corrupt heroes represent a corrupt society.
One of the reasons why Twain believed the society to be corrupt was because of the abuse of science in the nineteenth century. Though Twain initially admired scientific reason and common sense, he saw men becoming more like machines than human beings. In his novel, 'Pudd'nhead Wilson', Twain shows how inept scientific detectives are at salvaging humanity. Pudd'nhead Wilson uses the scientific method of fingerprinting to uncover a murder, but his victory does not touch the underlying corruption of the town.
Twain thought that the ideal detective could only exist in fiction. In 'Tom Sawyer, Detective' Twain creates a boy detective hero in Tom Sawyer whose success depends mainly on coincidence and luck. This undermines the principle on which detective stories are based: that the crime must be solved by the analytical deductive reasoning powers of the detective.
In his burlesque of the fictional Sherlock Holmes in "A Double Barreled Detective Story," Twain shows the unreality of detective fiction amidst society's moral corruption.
Throughout these works Twain shows that the perfect four part form of the detective story is as unreal as the detective character. Conventionally, all detective stories begin with a crime, then the detective or Watson-figure presents the evidence, then the detective solves the crime, and finally the detective gives a conclusion or synopsis of his analytical reasoning. Twain generally follows the first three parts but in the process the works often become confused and ridiculous.
In all of his detective stories, Twain gives the conclusion rather than having his fictional detective character do so. In the conclusions Twain exposes a social system so corrupt that more than detectives are needed to uncover the problems and restore justice and order to the society. By presenting the problems, Twain acts as a social reformer who makes the public aware of the necessity of change. — Donna Mary Andrews, "Mark Twain, Detective Story Writer," Master's Thesis (1981)For Twain, the detective is simply the useless appendage of a clueless society:
Much of Twain's detective fiction consists of conscious, and perhaps overwrought, parody or burlesque of the genre.
"What a curious thing a 'detective' story is," Twain confessed in 1896. "And was there ever one that the author needn't be ashamed of, except [Poe's] 'Murders in the Rue Morgue'?"
Twain's spoof of English detective fiction in particular mirrors his more general dismissal of European manners, artifacts, and culture.
[All of Twain's detective stories] parody the formula writing characteristic of the genre and in doing so satirize the sentimentality and romantic expectations of readers of detective fiction generally. Burlesque is the prevalent mode of these farcical pieces that expose the absurdity of detectives and their methods . . . . — LeMaster, et al., THE MARK TWAIN ENCYCLOPEDIA, pages 213-214
- TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE [Text here]
- THE TRAGEDY OF PUDD'NHEAD WILSON [Text here]
- A DOUBLE-BARRELLED DETECTIVE STORY [Text here]
- THE STOLEN WHITE ELEPHANT [Text here]
- THE FACTS CONCERNING THE RECENT CARNIVAL OF CRIME IN CONNECTICUT [Text here]
- SIMON WHEELER, DETECTIVE [Text here]
|Skeptical of detectives, real life and otherwise.|