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Written by Timothy Sexton
Twain’s narrative takes him out west. And then really west. He spends time in Utah, Nevada and California, of course, but it may be less well-known that Twain visited Hawaii and the Sandwich Island. He arrives in each place a newcomer; immature and unsure of the ways of the natives. He leaves, however, a more mature and worldly man thus suggesting that travel is a sure path to learning about others as well as learning about the self in a trek toward becoming more worldly, well-rounded, and broad-minded.
A surprising number of trials are held during the course of the narrative and all serve to underline Twain’s underlying scorn toward concept of the jury trial as a guarantor of liberty. The book is fraught with irony, but Twain seems to reserve his sharpest barbs and most pointed satirical commentary the ways in which the jurors fail to live up to the lofty idealistic view of the jury as the palladium of liberty.
The economics of mining for gold and silver are presented as a thematic backdrop to developing the character of the west. The stories that take up miners and mining are not forwarded as a thematic tapestry or continuum; it is only through allusion and connection that one begins to realize that the rough stock of those in the mining trade was an essential component of in the development of the independent spirit associated with the American west.
On the other hand, the character of the Utah territory in particular—and by extension those parts of Nevada which at one time comprised part of Utah—is shown to have its character inextricably linked to the arrival and settling of Mormons. Brigham Young, in particular, becomes the central figure in the sections of the book which examines the thorny political and historical complications of Utah’s relationship with the U.S. government.
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I went down with a long-handled shovel (the most awkward invention yet contrived by man) to throw it out. You must brace the shovel forward with the side of your knee till it is full, and then, with a skilful toss, throw it backward...