Mark Twain challenges Lawrence: It’s one of our favorite passages from literature, little of which we have actually read.
In Chapter 22 of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain describes the way an Arkansas crowd behaves at a low-grade circus. Being a live performer himself, Twain had seen people laugh:
TWAIN: It was a real bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that ever was when they all come riding in, two and two, a gentleman and lady, side by side, the men just in their drawers and undershirts, and no shoes nor stirrups, and resting their hands on their thighs easy and comfortable—there must a been twenty of them—and every lady with a lovely complexion, and perfectly beautiful, and looking just like a gang of real sure-enough queens, and dressed in clothes that cost millions of dollars, and just littered with diamonds. It was a powerful fine sight; I never see anything so lovely. And then one by one they got up and stood, and went a-weaving around the ring so gentle and wavy and graceful, the men looking ever so tall and airy and straight, with their heads bobbing and skimming along, away up there under the tent-roof, and every lady's rose-leafy dress flapping soft and silky around her hips, and she looking like the most loveliest parasol.As he continues, Twain describes a trick the clown and the ringmaster play on the people:
And then faster and faster they went, all of them dancing, first one foot out in the air and then the other, the horses leaning more and more, and the ringmaster going round and round the center-pole, cracking his whip and shouting "Hi!—hi!" and the clown cracking jokes behind him; and by and by all hands dropped the reins, and every lady put her knuckles on her hips and every gentleman folded his arms, and then how the horses did lean over and hump themselves! And so one after the other they all skipped off into the ring, and made the sweetest bow I ever see, and then scampered out, and everybody clapped their hands and went just about wild.
A third performer pretends to be a drunken man who has wandered into the tent and tried to ride one of the fastest horses. Eventually, the trick is revealed; the drunk turns out to be a magnificent trick horseman! After the trick has been revealed, this performer “skipped off, and made his bow and danced off to the dressing-room, and everybody just a-howling with pleasure and astonishment.”
We didn’t see or hear much howling with pleasure on the tape from the Missouri state fair. (For background, see our previous post.) We did recall Twain’s portrait of regular people when we read Beam’s disgusted account of the way those people allegedly behaved:
BEAM’S ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST: Last night, Lily and I took a student from Taiwan to the rodeo at the Missouri State Fair. Just prior to the start of the bull riding event, one of the clowns came out dressed in this [photo of rodeo clown wearing Obama mask]. The announcer wanted to know if anyone would like to see Obama run down by a bull. The crowd went wild. He asked it again and again, louder each time, whipping the audience into a lather. One of the clowns ran up and started bobbling the lips on the mask and the people went crazy. Finally, a bull came close enough to him that he had to move, so he jumped up and ran away to the delight of the onlookers hooting and hollering from the stands.Watching the tape Beam provided, we didn’t see or hear anyone going wild or getting whipped into a lather. Nor did we see the racist conduct which had Beam thinking he must be at a Ku Klux Klan event.
When we read his Facebook post, we thought of one famous person who seemed to like what happens when rodeo clowns leave regular people “just a-howling with pleasure.” We also thought we might be seeing the characteristic error of a certain type of modern liberal, who doesn’t seem to like regular people too much—who is perhaps a bit too quick to call such people the Klan.
Did those people go wild over racist behavior? We suggest that you watch that tape and try to figure that out!
Twain seemed to like it when his regular people laughed. That said, the circus scene immediately follows the scene involving the (ineffectual) lynch mob, another group from the same town who were easily tricked.