Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens, was a prolific author, essayist, lecturer and satirist known for his wit. As one of the most heavily quoted American writers due to his talent for cutting social commentary, Twain makes a meaty subject for research papers. Students can choose from a vast scope of topics to write about, from examining satire in his novels to discussing how the author’s life and values are reflected in his work.
Twain's Social Commentary
Discuss the influence Mark Twain’s novels and public lectures had on American politics and social values and examine how these views are relevant today. This research topic is suited for a politics, history, current events or literature class. Archives from newspapers and contemporary sociology books could be used as sources to compare and contrast how social values are or are not reflected in the actions of today’s politicians. Compare and contrast current events with the historical events that Twain wrote about. Has the character of the of the United States government changed since Twain’s day? How have the values of society changed and how have they stayed the same?
Use of Satire
How did Mark Twain use satire in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” to comment on slavery and imperialism? Few satirists since Twain have come close to his level of wit and humor. Examine the humor in the piece. Does the humor still work today? Why or why not? How did Twain’s peers respond to this humor? What are examples of popular satire and contemporary humorists, and how are they similar to Twain's work? How are they different?
Race and Imperialism
How were Mark Twain’s attitudes about race and imperialism changed by his world travels? Twain wrote a number of travel books later in life. His opinions on race were changed by these travels and by the friends, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, he made in life. An ardent imperialist in the 1890s, Twain reversed this position when he became vice president of the American Anti-Imperialist League in 1899. You could compare one of his early novels to a travel book like “Following the Equator” (1897), or cite political pamphlets Twain wrote after 1899. What is the difference between destiny and imperialism? Compare Twain's racial attitudes to those of his friend Rudyard Kipling.