Civilization

Just as in his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,  Mark Twain once again satirizes the flaws of our civilization in his “Papers of the Adams Family.” In the beginning, he states, “our civilization is wonderful, in certain spectacular and meretricious ways” (Twain). By claiming that our civilization is wonderful but qualifying that statement with “in certain and meretricious ways,” the reader can spot Twain’s satire from the first lines of the passage.  Meretricious is defined as “tawdrily and falsely attractive” or “superficially insignificant” by Merriam Webster (Merriam Webster). Twain’s sarcastic jab at our civilization’s excellence sets the cynical tone for the rest of the passage.

This passage closely connects to Twain’s aforementioned novel in that they both satirize society’s monetary and materialistic obsession. Towards the end of the passage, Twain comments that we live in a “civilization which has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life; replaced its contentment, its poetry, its soft romance-dreams and visions with the money-fever, sordid ideals, vulgar ambitions, and the sleep which does not refresh; [one that]  has invented a thousand useless luxuries, and turned them into necessities; it has created a thousand vicious appetites and satisfies none of them” (Twain). Through this he blatantly states one of our society’s major flaw-our obsession with money and the materialistic aspects of life. Twain also presents this message of the downside of wealth in his novel. Specifically, he shows the evils of greed through the King, Duke, and Pap. Pap seems to only be concerned with Huck’s fortune and is unconcerned with one of his most important roles-being a father to Huck. In fact, his money driven, unstable character causes him to act atrociously towards Huck. The King and Duke’s lust for money also drives them to commit unthinkable horrors. They lie and scam many townspeople along the river. They scam the three orphan girls of their inheritance. They take advantage of Jim’s African American status. They betray and sell Jim for their own greed. However, by the end of the novel, these three evil characters all have bad endings-Pap is found dead on a shipwrecked boat, and the King and Duke are tar and feathered. Through this, Twain conveys the message that people whose lives are lead by greed for wealth end in tragedy and unfulfillment.

Though Twain wrote this over 100 years ago, his message is still applicable today. In fact, there are works of writing that still satirize our society’s flaw of obsession with money. One such piece is a mock press release from The Onion  which shows our society’s belief that bigger is better and one can never have too much. These principles attribute to our society’s gullibility that leads to consumers buying into ridiculous advertisements. In the modern world where  consumers are constantly bombarded with false and luring advertisements, we have created a mindset that we can never have enough. Whenever a new product comes out, we must have it. This constant obsession with the materialistic aspects of our lives causes people to be become almost oppressed because if people put their happiness in materialistic things, they will never be truly happy since there will always be a new product to lust for.  Of course people need money to survive in today’s world, and money does not possess only negative qualities. It has helped our society make great innovative and technological leaps. It fuels our economy, provides for electricity, medicine, improved living conditions, and much more. But when we fall into money’s trap and make it an obsession, we reduce ourselves to slaves whose lives can end in tragedy and unfulfillment.

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