In “Two Views of the River,” an excerpt from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, Twain comes to the realization of the realities of the river. After a life along the river and knowing “every trifling feature that bordered the great river as” well as he knew his alphabet, (Twain 1) Twain sees the reality behind the “beauty” (1) and “poetry” (1) of the river. A comprehensive analysis reveals Twain’s argument questions the value of learning a trade, as his images of “the majestic river” (1) and the peril it may cause for the steamboat, show the comparisons of the beauty and the reality of the river.
Twain’s detailed images of the “gold,” (1) “tinted… opal,” (1) and “silver” (1) river, paint the beauty he finds in the surroundings. The “graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and… marvels of coloring” (1) depict the opinion Twain has of the river. This beauty has been learned and appreciated through the years of living along the river and is revealed through his images.
In comparison to Twain’s poetic river, he is able to grasp the hazards of the river through his work on the riverboats. Through his experiences “a day came when [he] began to cease from noting the glories and the charms … [and] another day [came] when [he] ceased altogether to note them” (1). Unlike the poetic prose stated before, Twain uses harsh images and a common dialect to describe the conditions of the riverfront, “which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights” (1). These comparisons in mind-set allow the reader and Twain to wonder if there is any value to actually learning a trade. If beauty or adventure is taken out of the experience, then why surrender to the trade? In further assessment, Twain questions the medical field by asking, “Does [a doctor] ever see [the] beauty [of the body] at all, or [does] he simply view her professionally?” (1). Seeing that doctors could overlook the beauty of the human body, Twain has “pitied doctors from [his] heart” (1). In this particular excerpt Twain does not answer his questions, but through his images of beauty and peril of the river the reader can assume he prefers “the poetry.