Abstract

As the writer known as Mark Twain neared the end of his life and career, the changing circumstances of the nation caused his criticism to sharpen and move from somewhat covert to brutally overt. The ways in which American nationalism and false piety were becoming ever more entwined seemed to have led to an increased infusion of anger within his satire. In the last decade of his life, his satire of American exceptionalism grew sharper with the “The War Prayer” and “To the Person Sitting in Darkness.” The latter, originally an essay published in the North American Review in February 1901 satirizing imperialism, religion, and the myth of American innocence, was published just a month after the writer had been appointed the vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League of New York. His disappointment, to put it mildly, at the American involvement in the Philippines and China has been well documented, but in these pieces Mark Twain attacks the Christian missionary zeal that is used as a cover for capitalism and imperialism abroad. Through his scathing response to Reverend William Scott Ament, the article instantiates his growth, with some of his most scathing and direct criticism of the missionary project and its connections with imperialist capitalism. With his latest works, Mark Twain suggests that if only Americans were able to unlearn their inherited mythologies, they might be able to avoid the most atrocious outcroppings of patriotism and Christianity.

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