Mark Twain

Happy Wednesday!

On Wednesday, I’ll alternate sharing poems and short stories. I’m not planning on much in-depth analysis like I do in the music posts, but if it’s a difficult piece or one that I enjoy picking apart, I will analyze.

“The Five Boons of Life” is a short fiction piece by Mark Twain. It’s a little longer than the usual flash fiction (under 500 words) so I’ll link the whole piece for you and reproduce the bits I want to talk about.

Chapter I

In the morning of life came a good fairy with her basket, and said:

“Here are gifts. Take one, leave the others. And be wary, chose wisely; oh, choose wisely! for only one of them is valuable.”

The gifts were five: Fame, Love, Riches, Pleasure, Death. The youth said, eagerly:

“There is no need to consider”; and he chose Pleasure.

You can guess where this is going.

It never ends well to choose Pleasure- look at Paris of Troy and how it turned out for him! But alas, as the old tell us, “youth is wasted on the young.” So he chooses Pleasure, and,

…each in its turn was short-lived and disappointing, vain and empty; and each, departing, mocked him. In the end he said: “These years I have wasted. If I could but choose again, I would choose wisely.”

You have to know where this is going. Does he choose well? Of course not!

Next he chooses Love- and “for each hour of happiness the treacherous trader, Love, has sold me I have paid a thousand hours of grief.”

So he picks again. Mind you that he has narrowed his choices down to three!

He picks Fame, but that soon turns to ash too:

Then came envy; then detraction; then calumny; then hate; then persecution. Then derision, which is the beginning of the end. And last of all came pity, which is the funeral of fame.

Mind you, he is down to two-TWO- choices…and he picks:

“Wealth — which is power! How blind I was!”

Do I need to tell you how his fling with wealth ends?

So we started with “Pleasure”-something that kids and young people seek. It’s the “id” of the brain.

Then, as an adult, “love.” It’s a pretty standard need, to love and be loved.

Fame &Wealth: While these aren’t quite so stage-specific as the other two were, we tend to associate wealth with old age, usually because old people have had so much more time to save. None of the above last; pleasures fade, lovers die, fame and wealth are squandered.

And that final boon, death. In the story,

The fairy came, bringing again four of the gifts, but Death was wanting. She said:

“I gave it to a mother’s pet, a little child. It was ignorant, but trusted me, asking me to choose for it. You did not ask me to choose.”

“Oh, miserable me! What is left for me?”

“What not even you have deserved: the wanton insult of Old Age.”

Well, that’s depressing. Let’s pretend the little child was very sickly, okay? Moving on.

Death, for this miserable guy, is a form of release. (Those nineteenth century folk were really obsessed with death…) He chose poorly four times, so I can forgive the fairy for removing the one valuable choice.

Choose wisely when fairies show up!


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