Beginning with an anecdote from his childhood in which he recalls the sermons of a lay preacher, Twain proceeds to discuss what he feels is a universal case of conformity and among the general population. The essay employs examples and cites evidence from the realms of fashion, literature, and dining etiquette to support his point that not only are people inclined toward conformity and self-approval, but that such qualities are derived from peer approval and a greater desire for solidarity with the general consensus. Throughout the piece, Twain uses a variety of rhetorical strategies and stylistic choices to arrange his words and express his thoughts. The culminating argument is packaged within a well-balanced narrative structure of claims, evidence and rhetorical elements.
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Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. Richard Nordquist Updated July 03, In an essay not published until several years after his death, humorist Mark Twain examines the effects of social pressures on our thoughts and beliefs.
Fox, "not a sermon. Rhetorical questions , elevated language, and short clipped declarations. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me, he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from.
But it did not happen; in the distribution of rewards, he was overlooked. It is the way, in this world. He interrupted his preaching, now and then, to saw a stick of wood; but the sawing was a pretense--he did it with his mouth; exactly imitating the sound the bucksaw makes in shrieking its way through the wood.
But it served its purpose; it kept his master from coming out to see how the work was getting along. I listened to the sermons from the open window of a lumber room at the back of the house.
It was deeply impressed upon me. By my mother. Not upon my memory, but elsewhere. She had slipped in upon me while I was absorbed and not watching. If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities.
He must restrict himself to corn-pone opinions--at least on the surface. He must get his opinions from other people; he must reason out none for himself; he must have no first-hand views. I think Jerry was right, in the main, but I think he did not go far enough. It was his idea that a man conforms to the majority view of his locality by calculation and intention.
This happens, but I think it is not the rule. It may be that such an opinion has been born somewhere, at some time or other, but I suppose it got away before they could catch it and stuff it and put it in the museum. I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing--if it has indeed ever existed.
A new thing in costume appears--the flaring hoopskirt, for example--and the passers-by are shocked, and the irreverent laugh. Six months later everybody is reconciled; the fashion has established itself; it is admired, now, and no one laughs. Public opinion resented it before, public opinion accepts it now and is happy in it. Was the resentment reasoned out?
Was the acceptance reasoned out? The instinct that moves to conformity did the work. It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist. What is its seat? The inborn requirement of self-approval. We all have to bow to that; there are no exceptions. Even the woman who refuses from first to last to wear the hoopskirt comes under that law and is its slave; she could not wear the skirt and have her own approval; and that she must have, she cannot help herself.
But as a rule, our self-approval has its source in but one place and not elsewhere--the approval of other people. A person of vast consequences can introduce any kind of novelty in dress and the general world will presently adopt it--moved to do it, in the first place, by the natural instinct to passively yield to that vague something recognized as authority, and in the second place by the human instinct to train with the multitude and have its approval.
An empress introduced the hoopskirt, and we know the result. A nobody introduced the bloomer, and we know the result. If Eve should come again, in her ripe renown, and reintroduce her quaint styles--well, we know what would happen. And we should be cruelly embarrassed, along at first. The hoopskirt runs its course and disappears.
Nobody reasons about it. One woman abandons the fashion; her neighbor notices this and follows her lead; this influences the next woman; and so on and so on, and presently the skirt has vanished out of the world, no one knows how nor why, nor cares, for that matter.
It will come again, by and by and in due course will go again. We have not adopted this new fashion yet, but we shall do it presently. We shall not think it out; we shall merely conform, and let it go at that. We get our notions and habits and opinions from outside influences; we do not have to study them out. Our table manners, and company manners, and street manners change from time to time, but the changes are not reasoned out; we merely notice and conform.
We cannot invent standards that will stick; what we mistake for standards are only fashions, and perishable. We may continue to admire them, but we drop the use of them. We notice this in literature. Everybody writes one, and the nation is glad. We are conforming in the other way, now, because it is another case of everybody.
The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict. Morals, religions, politics, get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking.
Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Mormons are Mormons; why thieves are thieves; why monarchists are monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats.
We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies.
Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity. Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest--the bread-and-butter interest--but not in most cases, I think.
We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances. Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value. In our late canvass half of the nation passionately believed that in silver lay salvation, the other half as passionately believed that that way lay destruction.
Do you believe that a tenth part of the people, on either side, had any rational excuse for having an opinion about the matter at all? I studied that mighty question to the bottom--and came out empty. Half of our people passionately believe in high tariff, the other half believe otherwise. Does this mean study and examination, or only feeling? The latter, I think.
We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God. I suppose that in more cases than we should like to admit, we have two sets of opinions: one private, the other public; one secret and sincere, the other corn-pone, and more or less tainted.
Overview of Corn-Pone Opinions by Mark Twain
Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. Richard Nordquist Updated July 03, In an essay not published until several years after his death, humorist Mark Twain examines the effects of social pressures on our thoughts and beliefs. Fox, "not a sermon. Rhetorical questions , elevated language, and short clipped declarations. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me, he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from.
Essay on Corn Pone Opinions By Mark Twain
Corn-Pone Opinions by Mark Twain