The Use of Humor in Mark Twain's At The Funeral

This selection makes it obvious that Mark Twain is a witty, intelligent man. His use of humor extends to the written speech, as well as his stage performances. This piece, St The Funeral, is a perfect example. Twain uses shocking statements, ironic situations, and a blatant disregard for social norm to compose this humorous satire. His work is masterfully written, and his sentences are arranged in such a way that comedic timing can be observed, even in text.

Mark Twain has always been known for his mastery of the English language, but not many people know about his comedic nature.

After reading only a few paragraphs from his selected “comic” works, it is impossible to ignore the sheer genius that this man possesses. Twain stuns the reader into laughter by using shocking statements such as “do not bring your dog” and by including specific instructions as though he had been in the same situation and had to stop himself from acting the way he describes.

He also uses words such as “entertainment” to describe the funeral, “statistics” to describe the eulogy, and “modifying” to describe the reactions of family members and friends. This method of word choice, especially when employed in the epoch in which the works were composed, is extremely risky and unpredictable. But somehow, Twain was successful in his endeavors.

Another risky technique used by Twain is irony. He twists mundane and commonplace occurrences to end up impossible or absurd. This is exemplified when he states that “If the odor of the flowers is too oppressive for your comfort, remember that they were not brought there for you, and that the person for whom they were brought suffers no inconvenience from their presence” (Twain).

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This is obviously true, and therefore not innately humorous, but the way in which Twain uses the statement creates an air of “improper” etiquette and therefore dilutes the truth of the statement to make it sound completely unrealistic.

Possibly the most prominent feature of this particular passage is the way in which Twain refers to society and social rankings. It is implied that everyone knows their social status, and where they stand in relativity to those around them. This is shown mainly in the sixth paragraph of the selection:

At the moving passages, be moved—but only according to your degree of intimacy with the parties giving the entertainment, or with the part in whose honor the entertainment was given. Where a blood relation sobs, an intimate friend should choke up, a distant acquaintance should sigh, a stranger should merely fumble sympathetically with his handkerchief. Where the occasion is military, the emotions should be graded according to military rank, the highest officer present taking the precedence in emotional violence, and the rest modifying their feelings according to their position of service.

This passage clearly indicates Twain’s lack of sympathy for relatives or friends of recently deceased, but even more so his lack of respect for society as a whole. Overall, Twain’s work is a masterpiece. It is beautifully written, and skillfully edited to seem so genuine that it in fact could be taken at face value as lacking humor altogether. It is only the choice of words and the placement of those words that makes this passage so hilarious.

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The Use of Humor in Mark Twain's At The Funeral. (2023, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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