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Critical Writing (ENG 120) Two Ways Of Seeing A River

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Sandra Watson
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Pace University

Critical Writing (ENG 120)

An excerpt called, “Two Ways of Seeing a River” from Mark Twain’s Life on the
Mississippi written in 1883 discusses the changing perspective he has once more knowledge is
gained. The passage is an account from Twain’s youth about learning how to be a steamboat
pilot on the Mississippi River. As Twain learns more about being a pilot his attitude towards the
once “opal tinted, tumbling rings..sparkling upon the water” changed. The narrative reveals the
danger Twain later discovers amid the mesmerizing beauty that he once admired. An
experience that could only be discovered by taking to the river itself. The breathtaking
illustration Twain provides the audience combined with contrast and cause and effect brings to
light that one would have a differing opinion on something that seems seemingly beautiful once
they experience that thing for themself.
Twain first introduces the Mississippi River as something “covered with graceful circles
and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced.” This perspective is from when Twain is first
captivated by the “speechless rapture” of the river. Once Twain begins to learn the patterns of
the river and atmosphere that surrounds it, he begins to take note of the darker aspects of the
river. He sees the river as more dangerous and “troublesome…the romance and the beauty…all
gone from the river” once he takes to the river himself. After seeing this other side of the river
Twain notes that it cannot be unseen. His two ways of seeing the river are vastly different from
how he first saw it to how he views it at the end of the passage.

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Critical Writing (ENG 120) Two Ways Of Seeing A River

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