A Response to Mark Twain’s “Papers of the Adam Family”

Civilization started as a way of survival. Living as a group increased every member’s chance to live. From hunting and gathering to farming, humans have never stopped developing and improving social structures. Language, philosophy, economy, and governmental order expanded through time, eventually leading to today’s modern society. The riches that civilization brought men allowed them to bathe in glory. At the same time, who would have anticipated that this delicate fabric that has been so carefully woven since has the capacity to bring down its makers, as Twain has argued in his “Papers of the Adam Family” and the novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

Mark Twain employs the character of Huck to express his idea that civilization has enslaved men through their lust for materials such as money. In the beginning of the novel, Huck ran away from pap and did not head for the widow’s place because he “didn’t want to go back” and “be so cramped up and sivilized” (Twain 19). However, his tone and expression soon changed when he crossed a storm on a simple raft, where he described the image beautifully with poetic languages. The sharp contrast in both language and tone reveals Twain’s insight of civilization’s dark side. He shows that civilization dejects men from nature’s embrace and traps them in the relentless, maybe even pointless, improvement of manners and material comfort. Also, during the second half of the novel, the King and Duke have used several unmoral strategies to hunt for money. In the end, they have both been tarred and feathered by the furious town’s people. The King and Duke find their happiness through ownership of money, which reflects the situation that many people today find themselves in. Civilization creates the concept of money to help regulate economy. However, side effects can be seen when people become money slaves, where rather than simply being happy, they are caught in the pursuit of happiness, which translates to the pursuit of material ownership and comfort. Just as Twain expressed, “It is a civilization which has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life; replaced its contentment, its poetry, its soft romance-dreams and visions with the money-fever, sordid ideals, [and] vulgar ambitions […]”.

When walking around with careful eyes in today’s modern society, the evil sibling of civilization can be observed strolling side by side with her sister. She attacks human hearts and lights people’s eyes with greed and fakeness. When picking up my brother from school every day, I can often see parents dressed in formal attires with exhausted and stressed faces. People are so busy making money for their families and pleasing their bosses that they do not have time or the thought to enjoy living. Sleep is no longer an enjoyable thing to do; it is rather for the ability to work harder and faster the next morning. In some extreme cases, people see sleep as an annoyance and a barrier against them working to make more money.

Even modern movies reflect the negative side of civilization. In “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, one of the survivors points out that the difference between men and apes is that the beasts “don’t need power, lights, heat, nothing”, and “that’s what made them stronger”. When the people finally reestablished electricity and a convenient store’s lights lit up, they were thrilled while the apes were standing quietly aside and awed by the brilliant colors that the lights made. The apes belong to nature, they find happiness in being alive and they simply enjoy the company of each other. On the other hand, since civilization gives birth to advanced technology, humans have been relying on it to give them a sense of satisfaction ever since. Once mankind advances, they can never go back. Like Twain said, civilization creates luxuries like electricity, and makes them necessities.

Together, human intelligence develops civilization, which is mankind’s most prominent characteristic and the bitterest downfall. It separates men from beasts, while trapping them inside their minds and seemingly important ideals.


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