Mark Twain e il Thanksgiving

Mark Twain e il Thanksgiving

“There are several indicators one might use to judge the level of one’s fame. One is being the highest – paid writer in the history. Another is not being dissuaded by anyone from writing over two thousand pages of autobiography. And another is feeling comfortable asking the President of the United States to move the Thanksgiving for your birthday celebration”.

(The New Yorker, by Macy Halford. November 21, 2010)

 

Nel novembre 1905, nel mese del suo 70esimo compleanno, Mark Twain era estremamente famoso. Questo importante compleanno è ben documentato e ci sono varie foto dei festeggiamenti. Nel primo volume della sua lunghissima biografia c’è un passaggio dedicato a questo episodio nel quale descrive gli sforzi del suo editore George Harvey (l’uomo che lo rese lo scrittore più pagato di sempre) di organizzare i festeggiamenti:

Twain’s Own Account

“This talk about Mr. Whittier’s seventieth birthday reminds me that my own seventieth arrived recently — that is to say, it arrived on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians.

Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist — the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the count closed with Heaven, with the thanks due.

But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.

Un ritratto di Mark Twain

Un ritratto di Mark Twain

The President and the Governors had to have my birthday — the 30th — for Thanksgiving Day, and this was a great inconvenience to Colonel Harvey, who had made much preparation for a banquet to be given to me on that day in celebration of the fact that it marked my seventieth escape from the gallows, according to his idea — a fact which he regarded with favor and contemplated with pleasure, because he is my publisher and commercially interested.

He went to Washington to try to get the President to select another day for the national Thanksgiving, and I furnished him with arguments to use which I thought persuasive and convincing, arguments which ought to persuade him even to put off Thanksgiving Day a whole year — on the ground that nothing had happened during the previous twelvemonth except several vicious and inexcusable wars, and King Leopold of Belgium’s usual annual slaughters and robberies in the Congo State, together with the insurance revelations in New York, which seemed to establish the fact that if there was an honest man left in the United States, there was only one, and we wanted to celebrate his seventieth birthday. But the colonel came back unsuccessful, and put my birthday celebration off to the 5th of December.

I had twice as good a time at this seventieth, as I had had at Mr. Whittier’s seventieth, twenty eight years earlier. In the speech which I made were concealed many facts. I expected everybody to discount those facts 95 per cent, and that is probably what happened. That does not trouble me, I am used to having my statements discounted. My mother had begun it before I was seven years old. Yet all through my life my facts have had a substratum of truth, and therefore they were not without preciousness.

Any person who is familiar with me knows how to strike my average, and therefore knows how to get at the jewel of any fact of mine and dig it out of its blue-clay matrix. My mother knew that art. When I was seven or eight, or ten, or twelve years old — along there — a neighbor said to her “Do you ever believe anything that that boy says?” My mother said “He is the wellspring of truth, but you can’t bring up the whole well with one bucket” — and she added, “I know his average, therefore he never deceives me. I discount him 30 per cent for embroidery, and what is left is perfect and priceless truth, without a flaw in it anywhere.”

Mark Twain

 

mark_twain

Step 1 Mark Twain

 

“È meglio rimanere in silenzio ed essere considerati imbecilli

piuttosto che aprire bocca e togliere ogni dubbio”

M.Twain

Ernest Hemingway disse che la letteratura americana iniziò con “Huckleberry Finn”. Mark Twain, infatti, con i suoi romanzi, cambiò il modo di scrivere attraverso un linguaggio semplice e divertente. Uno dei grandi cambiamenti che Twain apportò al linguaggio fu quello di inserire parole prese dal dialetto.

In this book a number of dialects are used: The Missouri Negro dialect, the most extreme from of the backwoods South-Westerns dialect, The ordinary Pike County dialect and four modified varieties of this last”.

Il suo vero nome era Samuel Langhorne Clemens, nacque in Florida, Missouri il 30 novembre 1835. Nel 1839 lui e la sua famiglia si trasferirono ad Hannibal nel Missouri, una piccolo villaggio sul fiume Mississippi. Il giovane Samuel, quindi, crebbe in quel luogo e da ragazzo ebbe molte avventure sulle sponde di quel fiume lavorando anche come pilota di battelli.

Approfondimenti e collegamenti interdisciplinari:

  1. La vita e le opera di Mark Twain
  2. Clil geografia: Il Mississippi

 

Step 2 – L’America di Mark Twain

“ Alcune persone pensano che l’onesta

sia sempre la tattica migliore.

E’ una superstizione. A volte, la mera

impressione di onestà vale sei volte tanto”

M. Twain

 Lo scenario politico e sociale in cui si trova a scrivere e a vivere Mark Twain è lo scenario della nascita di uno stato che può essere considerato speranza ma anche illusione, sogno ma anche incubo. Twain attraversa le contraddizioni del suo tempo e riesce nel difficile compito di raccontarle. Le sue opere sono una vera e propria educazione alla vita ed egli è il testimone della formazione di una nazione, dei suoi entusiasmi e delle sue cadute, tra il moralismo integralista dei Padri pellegrini, il problema della convivenza delle varie minoranze e la schiavitù.

La casa di Mark Twain

La casa di Mark Twain

Collegamenti interdisciplinari:

Clil geografia: The Usa

Clil storia:

  • Native American Indians,
  • The Indian wars
  • La schiavitù
  • La Guerra civile americana

 Approfondimenti:

  • Missouri the door to the West

The city of Independence, Missouri is often called “the door to the West”. In the 1840’s thousands of pioneers began their long trip to the West in Independence. These people came from different states east of the Mississippi River and they wanted to go and live in the West. At Independence the settlers had to decide where they wanted to go. They had to choose a trail, The Oregon Trail, the California Trail or the Santa Fe Trail.

At that time the United States Government often gave free land to pioneers who wanted to set up farms and towns in the West. Pioneers were strong, brave people. These met in Independence with their covered wagons pulled by horses. Families put their furniture , clothes, food, water and other useful things in the covered wagons. Many families brought cattle with them because they wanted to start a cattle farm.

The pioneers met in Independence early in spring. Many covered wagons always traveled together because it was safer. This was called a wagon trail and every wagon train had a leader called a captain. There was always a scout, too, who knew the trails well. He rode his horse in front of the wagon train to look for dangers.

The long trip to the West took any months. And it was difficult and dangerous. Between 1841 and 1869 more than 500,000 pioneers traveled from Independence, Missouri to the West. These people set up farms, towns, roads, cities and industries, They built America.

(The Adventure of Tom Sawyer, ed Black Cat)

saxophone-3575545_1280

La capanna dello zio Tom 

Romanzo abolizionista scritto dalla statunitense Harriet Beecher Stowe e pubblicato nel 1852. Nel 1850 fu promulgato un atto legislativo, The Fugitive Slave Law, che decretava il dovere di denunciare gli schiavi fuggiti e la conseguente restituzione ai proprietari. La scrittrice focalizza il romanzo sul personaggio dello Zio Tom e sulla sofferenza degli schiavi neri raffigurando la crudele realtà della schiavitù.

  • Il Blues

Il blues nasce in questi anni, come musica nera che accompagna il lavoro delle piantagioni e scandisce la vita dei neri e degli schiavi. Elemento distintivo di questa società composita e complessa che si sviluppa sulle rive del fiume Mississippi. Sarà interessante svolgere un’attività interdisciplinare che coinvolga Educazione musicale e proporre alcuni canti e i relativi testi.

Le immagini che seguono sono frutto di un viaggio del fotografo Gigi Montali proprio nei luoghi del Blues. Proiettarle in classe durante l’ascolto dei canti e chiedere ai ragazzi di commentarle e descriverle in lingua originale potrebbe essere un attività utile a sviluppare le abilità di produzione orale degli studenti.

 

Photo: Gigi Montali - gigi@gigimontali.it

Photo: Gigi Montali – [email protected]

Photo: Gigi Montali - gigi@gigimontali.it

Photo: Gigi Montali – [email protected]

 

Curiosità 

“Il Paradiso lo preferisco per il clima,

l’inferno per la compagnia”.

M. Twain

“Le Avventure di Huckleberry Finn” è sempre stato al centro di un dibattito sull’appropriatezza di far leggere ai bambini un libro di Twain a scuola visto il possibile razzismo del protagonista e l’uso frequentissimo della parola “nigger”. Nel 2011 la casa editrice New South Books ha addirittura pubblicato un’edizione di Huckleberry Finn sostituendo alla parola “nigger” la parola “slave”. L’associazione delle biblioteche statunitensi ha inserito questo libro in una classifica dei libri che più spesso si è tentato di rimuovere dalle biblioteche o dai curriculum scolastici.

 

Francesca Tamani

È docente di lingua inglese e francese presso la scuola secondaria “ A. Chieppi” di Parma. Referente e docente per le certificazioni Esol University of Cambridge e Trinity College e per le certificazioni Delf con Alliance Francaise. Ha collaborato alla stesura del testo “Make it” per la scuola secondaria con Cambridge University Press. Fa parte di un gruppo di lavoro Miur “Orientamente” che cura la didattica per l’orientamento e la progettazione di strumenti didattici. Ha curato l’introduzione della didattica Clil come referente per le lingue all’interno di un progetto verticale.

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