Two Views of the River Essay

Mark Twain writes an effective comparison and contrast of his views on a river in the short excerpt “Two Views of a River”, found on page 203 in The College Writer: A guide to thinking, writing, and researching.  Twain writes with the purpose of engaging his readers to a subject that he cares about and writes of with intense emotion.  He uses stimulating ideas to hold the attention of the reader by using many sensory details of the majestic river and then urges his audience to understand how he, just as they, could hold two views of one thing.

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The excerpt is very reader-friendly and flows smoothly with artistic fluency.  The beauty of this piece, however is the illogical nature of the structure, as it mirrors the illogical structure of his subject and the deeper meaninf embedded within it.  Twain avoids the typical word choice and structure of a more academic piece and makes this work more poetic than proper.  It seems that the overall intention here is to engage the audience by using stimulating visual imagery to promote thought about how when one discovers the natural purpose of things that the beauty of what is seen, somehow fades among other interesting topics that can be derived from this.

Twain’s comparison of the river involves the usage of metaphors and hyperbole to animate his words into images.  He compares the river to poetry and his familiarity with it to the acquisition of language.  He chooses to use the language in the work in an engaging and stimulating way, narrating his experience in an informal way and playing around with different forms of writing.  Though the brightness of his work is, at times contrasted with his darker view of the river, once it seems to become too familiar with him.  For this reason, it is fair to say that the contrast of his writing style is a metaphor of the contrast of color on a palate, going through the spectrum of colors and then to nothingness.

Twain effectively illustrates the comparison of the idea of knowing all to feeling nothing, though it seems to be a contrast it is not.  He seems to be saying that the beauty is in learning about the wonders of nature and about wondering about them.  However, when the mystery is gone and the understanding is acquired, the passion seems to fade and knowing all lends to feeling nothing.

This seems and odd pair to compare, but it does make sense as knowing all is a state of mind while feeling nothing is an emptiness that is left of feeling, because knowing has taken it’s place.  The contrast in this situation would be understanding the opposite; when one has not learned all there is to know on a subject, there is still room for feeling, when one knows something, the feeling is gone. This rather deep take on Twain’s excerpt proves that he has mastered engagement and his intent is to illicit this type of pondering on the subject.

There is proof too that this piece is reader-friendly, as it is designed to be read and re-read to fully absorb the meaning.  The piece seems to only get more interesting with each reading of it and the fluency and word choice are so that it seems very poetic and musical.  Twain does compare the river to a poem and his work seems to mirror the same type of poetry.  Just as he talks of the beauty and the color of the river, the piece is comparatively colorful and beautiful.

But, just as he writes of something being acquired and something being lost, an obvious contrast, the same fate it that of his audience.  When the reader discovers the meaning of Twain’s words than the mysterious search for meaning is lost and the knowledge of what he means is acquired.  To delve even deeper into this work, it may be said that this is true of anything in life and especially in nature.

Since Twain is dealing with a subject of nature, his illogical organization of sentences and structure is a comparison with nature.  He seems to write in a form that is comparable to nature, itself, that being his own nature.  Just as the river flows, so do his words in a way that is not restrained by manmade design of harsh academic work.  It may be said that a comparison is that an academic work has value, in that it is organized and informational and it is that value that Twain speaks of that took away the beauty of the river for him.  When the river seemed to echo it’s usefulness, it was contrastingly useless for him.

He compares this simple usefulness of things with a way that a doctor may look at a beautiful cheek, but only see disease underneath or something otherwise professional.  To Twain this may be a metaphor or comparison to the act of writing itself and it is mirrored in this piece.  Professional writing to him lacks beauty, is what he seems to say, organization and usefulness lacks beauty.  Therefore his lack of conventional writing still allows this beauty and the purpose to his audience is the wonderful quest of getting to know his piece, as he got to know the river.  The story ends like a comparison to a sunset and darkness and lack of feeling ensues when the meaning is discovered.

In conclusion,  “Two Views of the River” is a very interesting and poetic piece.  Just as much can be compared and contrasted with what is in the work itself with what Twain may be communicating about his art and his profession.  As this piece is about a part of nature, Twain seems to show his own human nature and the natural way of his writing.  The words flow smoothly and are engaging, his purpose is to instigate deep and critical thought, to communicate through comparison and contrast the many facets of what we see and what we know.  In essence, the beauty is in the discovery and the darkness is in the end of newness, questioning, and within professional conformity.


Twain, Mark.  (2009).  “Two Views of the River” in VanderMey, Meyer, Van Rys, and Sebranek.  The College Writer: A guide to thinking, writing, and researching.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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