Honors Faculty Fellow Alex Trimble Young presents scholarly paper at 8th annual symposium on American author Mark Twain

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October 12, 2021

Mark Twain’s semi-autographical book Roughing It, about his time on the California and Nevada mining frontiers, is a humorous travelogue full of history and philosophy, satire, and irony. 

To Twain scholars, Roughing It – which was published in 1872 – is a significant example of Western regionalist writing and commentary on frontier life. It is a window into Twain’s relationship with the American West, including his thoughts about indigenous peoples and immigrants.

Alex Trimble Young, Honors Faculty Fellow at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University and a Twain scholar, recently delivered a paper titled “The Vigorous New Vernacular: The ‘Goshoot’ Episode and the Politics of Irony in Roughing It at the 2021 Quarry Farm Symposium “Mark Twain and The West: Celebrating The 150th Anniversary of Roughing It”. This, the 8th annual symposium, was held in early October at Quarry Farm, Twain’s family home and now Elmira College’s Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York. 

In his presentation, Young points to the nuanced irony of Twain’s representation of the Goshute Indians, who lived in the harsh desert environment south and west of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. 

Young calls Twain’s observations about the Goshutes “a complex satire directed at both the Indians he encounters and those among his white audience who attribute the Indians’ abjection to essential racial traits.” 

“Mark Twain was, in many ways, anti-racist for his time, but the worst of his racial attitudes come out in some of his representations of Indigenous peoples,” Young explained prior to his presentation. “To understand the politics of his humor, you have to grapple with the good, the bad, and the ugly of those representations.” 

Young’s paper on Twain will be published next year in the Mark Twain Annual, a scholarly journal of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. 

His recent work on transnational settler colonialism and the culture of the U.S. West can be found in journals including History of the Present, Theory & Event, Social Text, and Western American Literature. His first monograph, The Frontiers of Dissent: the Settler Colonial Imaginary in US Literature after 1945 is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press.