Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Idealism vs. Reality

During class, we have discussed one of the topics that tend to be in many of Twain’s short stories: idealism vs. realism. I think that this is shown at great extents in his short story A Day at Niagara. In this story, the narrator, a white tourist, is visiting Niagara Falls and is expecting to have the perfect experience while there. However, he soon finds out that this is not the experience he will be getting. There is an overall tone of sarcasm is his voice while he talks about the time he spends at Niagara. At one point he says, “It is worth the price of admission to hear the guide tell the story nine times in succession to different parties, and never miss a word or alter a sentence or a gesture” (21); talking about how going on a tour isn’t really worth it because it is scripted. It’s not the authentic experience that everyone is looking for, even though most people buy into the idea that it is an authentic experience.

The narrator also has this idea that he is going to encounter The Noble Red Man, a man that he has great respect for because the narrator has read about this Noble Red Man in books, and is fascinated by the character that he always plays. However, the tourist comes to find that the Noble Red Men of the area aren’t at all kind, like the woman at the store told him, and that they are actually Irish immigrants. When the tourist approaches these “relics” he addresses them in a very racial way by using stereotypical jargon that would generally not be used by an outsider of a group. After the first man he approaches gets angry with him, the tourist tries to find another group of Red Men to talk to so that he can get the response he is looking for. However, by the time he approaches the third group, they beat him up, break his bones, and throw him over the falls.

Even though all of these terrible things keep happening to the narrator, he continues to pursue the experience he expects to have. He continually is unable to attain his expected experience. I think that this is seen all the time in society. We are continually trying to live the “American Dream” and we have such unattainable expectations of what is supposed to happen. Sometimes it is hard to realize that these ideals may never become a reality. But, Twain pokes fun at this idea, through the narrator in this story, that if we continue to strive for the experience we are expecting to have, that it will eventually become our reality. Once again, in A Day at Niagara, Twain shows us that no matter how hard we try to get the authentic experience, and live in the ideal world, that it is simply never going to happen. It is just part of life, and we have to learn to live in reality and let go of our ideal world.


  1. You make a very interesting point. I think that "A Day at Niagara" is a great example of idealism, and people wanting to get the "real" experience. I find myself looking for the local experience when I visit new places. We all think of things ideally, instead of how they actually are. I really like how Twain also made fun of the way tourist act, and also at the way the locals fool and play jokes on the visitors.

  2. Twain does have many stories that raise the issue of idealism vs. realism. "A Day at Niagra Falls" is a great example of this concept. Growing up in a very touristy place, Hawai'i, I have encountered many people like our friend who visited Niagra Falls. He did expect the locals to show him a good time but, in reality got beaten because of his expectations. I understand how the "Noble Red Men" felt when the narrator went around expecting hospitality and attention. It gets annoying when tourists go around the island giing off the air that they own the world and we(as locals) must provide them with anything and everything of which they ask. It is quite disrespectful to come into someones home (territory) demanding a wonderous experience. The Noble Red men were probably fed up with the numerous tourists with this same characteristic.