Mark Twain “Two Ways of Viewing the River”

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Mark Twain “Two Ways of Viewing the River” is his view of ceasing to note the beauty of the river while steam boating, implying that once you have learned certain practices, they become almost innate qualities. That is not to say that they become instinct, only that one has mastered this ability. When any individual begins a journey of learning a new trade, ability or experiencing a new discovery initial rapture almost always ensues.

“Two Ways of Viewing the River” is a short excerpt from Mark Twain’s autobiography written in 1883 that compares and contrasts Twain’s point of view as a Mississippi River boat pilot. In my opinion, these few paragraphs are pitch perfect as well as technically masterful. The descriptive details in paragraph 1 were especially impressive. However, I am also struck by how universal this essay is a metaphor for everyday life. It is, in a sense, a comment on the human condition. I can recall myself that youthful energy and thirst for the unknown that Twain describes in him as a young pilot.

I also recall the moment when I realized that youthful energy was laced with naive. In a way, Twain also describes his young and naive viewpoints on the Mississippi, and how they change with more knowledge of the river and the world. In a modern world where we race to have all the information and know all the answers, is it all worth it? Once Twain had all the information and answers of the river, it ruined it for him. Twain, while not regretting his knowledge of the river, seems to lament the fact that he has so much knowledge.

Isn’t that learning of knowledge a necessary part of his life? Twain wouldn’t be able to do his job well if he didn’t know all he did. It’s a very interesting dichotomy. I suppose for Twain the knowledge of the Mississippi River was a necessary evil. Would it be better to know few details and no answers of life, but to see it with all the romance and beauty that Twain first saw in the river? Personally, I am pretty sure I’d want the knowledge and the answers, but Twain makes me think twice about it.

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