The Innocents Abroad  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress was published by American author Mark Twain in 1869. The travel literature chronicles Twain's pleasure cruise on board the chartered vessel Quaker City (formerly USS Quaker City) through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of religious pilgrims in 1867. It was the best selling of Twain's works during his lifetime.

Starter commentary and material

Analysis

At first glance, Innocents Abroad is an ordinary travel book. It is based on an actual event, in a retired Civil War ship (the USS Quaker City). The excursion upon which the book is based was billed as a Holy Land expedition, with numerous stops along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as a train excursion from Marseilles, France to Paris for the 1867 Paris Exhibition, and a side trip through the Black Sea to Odessa, all before the ultimate pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Twain recorded his observations and critiques of various aspects of culture and society he met on the journey, some more serious than others, which gradually turned from witty and comedic to biting and bitter as he drew closer to the Holy Land. Once in the Holy Land proper, his tone shifted again, this time to a combination of light-hearted comedy and a reverence not unlike what he had previously mocked in his traveling companions.

Many of Twain's criticisms were based on the contrast between his own experiences and the often grandiose accounts in contemporary travelogues, which were regarded in their own time as indispensable aids for traveling in the region. Above all others, Twain lampooned William Cowper Prime's Tent Life in the Holy Land for its overly sentimental prose and its often violent encounters with native inhabitants. Twain also made light of his fellow travelers and the natives of the countries and regions he visited, as well as his own expectations and reactions.

Themes

A major theme of the book, insofar as a book assembled and revised from the newspaper columns Twain sent back to America as the journey progressed can have a theme, is that of the conflict between history and the modern world; the narrator continually encounters petty profiteering and trivializations of the past as he journeys, as well as the strange emphasis placed on particular events in the past, and is either outraged, puzzled, or bored by the encounter. One example can be found in the sequence during which the boat has stopped at Gibraltar. On shore, the narrator encounters seemingly dozens of people intent on regaling him, and everyone else, with a bland and pointless anecdote concerning how a particular hill nearby acquired its name, heedless of the fact that the anecdote is, indeed, bland, pointless, and toward the end, entirely too repetitive. Another example may be found in the discussion of the story of Abelard and Heloise, where the skeptical American deconstructs the story and comes to the conclusion that too much fuss has been made about the two lovers. Only when the ship reaches areas of the world that do not exploit for profit or bore passers-by with inexplicable interest in their history, such as the passage dealing with the ship's time at the Canary Islands, is this trait not found in the text.

This reaction to those who profit from the past is found, in an equivocal and unsure balance with reverence, in the section of the book that deals with the ship's company's experiences in the Holy Land. The narrator reacts here, not only to the exploitation of the past and the unreasoning (to the American eye of the time) adherence to old ways, but to the profanation of religious history, and to the shattering of illusions, such as his dismay in finding that the nations described in the Old Testament could easily fit inside many American states and territories, and that the kings of those nations might very well have ruled over fewer people than could be found in some small towns.

This equivocal reaction to the religious history the narrator encounters may be magnified by the prejudices of the time, as the United States was still primarily a Protestant nation at that point. The Catholic Church, in particular, receives a considerable amount of attention from the narrator, seemingly not because of any particular differences in doctrine that it may have with the narrator's own attitudes, but, rather because of its institutionalized nature. This is particularly apparent in the section of the book dealing with Italy, where the poverty of the lay population and the relative affluence of the church causes the narrator to urge, in the text of the book, if not directly, the inhabitants to rob their priests.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Innocents Abroad" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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