Monday, January 27, 2014

Mob Mentality

            What’s really sticking out to me in this reading—something that really didn’t hit me in high school—is the sheer rampant, senseless violence.  The Grangerford/Shepherdson feud is the obvious go-to example here, but there was something else that struck me a lot harder.  When the king and the duke stop to con a town, and Colonel Sherburn kills the drunk Boggs, there is moment that stunned me.  A man gets up and reenacts the incredibly (to say the least) recent murder.  What really gets me here is the town’s reaction to the reenactment.
            “The people that had seen the thing said he done it perfect; said it was just exactly the way it all happened.  Then as much as a dozen people got out their bottles and treated him.
            Well, by-and-by, somebody said Sherburn ought to be lynched.  In about a minute everybody was saying it; so away they went, mad and yelling, and snatching down every clothes-line they came to, to do the hanging with.” (Twain 146)

            The mood begins as nonchalant and almost festive, with the crowd lauding the man’s accuracy and offering him drinks.  Then, someone brings up the idea of lynching Sherburn.  Twain’s casual language at this point hit me hard.  “, somebody said Sherburn ought to be lynched.” (Twain 146)  It sounds so causal, as though someone offhandedly said “Say, you know, we should murder that guy, am I right, folks?”  And by the next sentence, the crowd has become so enraged that they’re converting appliances into murder weapons mid-rampage.  It’s a terrifying view of mob-mentality.  At least the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons have a had a few generations to solidify their irrational hatred into the raging life-hazard it’s become, but these townspeople go from “Hey man, nice job on the reenactment, have a beer!” to “KILL THE BASTARD!” in t-minus two sentences.  I’ve yet to figure out how this affects my view of the book’s overall meaning, but it really has shown me how differently I’m seeing the book now that I’m a good six years older.  I had a much more pastoral image of it in my memory which has really been mowed down.

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