I have a confession to make. I have never read a Mark Twain novel, even the biggies: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It isn’t because I don’t have respect for Mark Twain, it’s just that I was never provided the opportunity throughout my own education, nor have these two novels been incorporated into any of the curriculums that I have taught from. I have read the short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” but admittedly, that is the beginning and ending of my Mark Twain exposure.
As I switch off my University of Cincinnati Student hat to my AP Lang fedora, I have stumbled upon my next encounter with Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Our current unit presents the topic of popular culture, and while one may not think about a novelist and essayist from the 1800s as someone whom should be included, after reading his essay, “Corn-Pone Opinions,” I dare say that it is the very site in which the conversation should begin.
If we consider what makes a trend, a fad, a fever catch fire, and by definition agreed upon the masses, popular culture’s definition is: the mutually agreed upon qualification of…something. Twain’s purpose for writing this essay is two fold: A.) To define what a corn-pone opinion is, and B.) that all corn-pone opinions are based upon the need for people to seek out other’s approval; politics, religion, morals not being excluded from topics that are directly influenced by corn-pone opinion development.
Corn-Pone Opinion: (Noun) Broadly speaking, it stands for self-approval. An opinion based upon the assimilation of thought to conform to the majority in hopes of receiving approval
It’s not my goal to debate his thesis, but to share with you the eloquence in which he supports himself. Because of the nature of Advanced Placement Language and Composition, the need to analyze for rhetoric and purpose, appreciating how something is said and not its message, as well as my devotion to sharing my love of literature, I wish to share with you my four favorite quotes from this essay.
- A trend begins by someone changing the norm. For six months (give or take depending on the part of the country you’re from) people laugh. Six months later, people reconciled and the norm violation is accepted and admired. No one laughs.
- Public opinion resented it before, public opinion accepts it now, and is happy in it. Why was the resentment reasoned out? Was the acceptance reasoned out? No. The instinct that moves to conformity did the work. It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist What is its seat? The inborn requirement of self approval….But as a rule our self-approval has its source in but one place and not elsewhere – the approval of other people.
- The matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies.
- Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity…I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it’s born of the human being’s natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise – yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted and must have its own way.
This is real corn-pone bread: