This article argues, contrary to the contemporary critical consensus, that Twain’s notorious representation of the Goshutes in Roughing It is a complex satire directed at both the Indigenous people he encounters and those among his white audience who attribute the Goshute’s abjection to essential racial traits. This satire does not rescue the passage from an irredeemable racial logic, but it does mark Twain’s thinking on race as substantially different from the forms of “Indian hating” common among his contemporaries. Exploring Twain’s sources and considering the function of irony in Roughing It more broadly, this article argues that the leveling effect of his irony presages a shift in the United States’ settler colonial “logic of elimination” from frontier homicide to assimilationism, and the subsequent modes of liberal thought (most notably Richard Rorty’s) that imagine irony as a necessary mode of subjectivity for a citizen in a pluralist democracy.

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