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Mysterious Stranger

  1. What is Moral Sense?  How does Satan turn upside down the boys’ arguments on the need for morality? How does Twain make you think or rethink morality? Is evil a construct of limited understanding or an unfair burden on morality?
  • How does The Mysterious Stranger explore Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest?  Is there a sense of survival or evolution in the novel or is there a sense of stagnancy.
  • How does Twain explore the concepts of Naturalism and/or Realism in this novella? How would you classify the story as one or the other?
  • How does Twain use parody and comedy in juxtaposition with darker images to create mood or illustrate a theme ?


  1. Preston Renfrow

    1. Moral Sense is the ability to distinguish right from wrong and good from evil. Satan turns the boys’ arguments around by showing examples throughout the story of how the moral sense makes humans evil through wrongdoing. Twain forces the audience to question if we need morality because morality is how we know when we do wrong, making us evil. If we didn’t know what was evil, we wouldn’t do evil things. This makes evil a burden on morality because creatures without the moral sense cannot do evil because they don’t know what evil is.

  2. Preston Renfrow

    In Mysterious Stranger, Satan shows how several nations have risen and fallen through wars, relating it back to the Moral Sense and following the crowd to a need for war. This shows a morality version of survival of the fittest, where those with better morality are more likely to survive due to choosing to do good instead of evil and not following the crowd that yells for war, looking at a more civil way to solve problems.

  3. Preston Renfrow

    Twain leans more towards naturalism in this novella, due to the naturalist view that individuals have no choices and impact over their life, rather hereditary and environmental factors determine one’s path in life. This is supported with the example Satan gives the boys that life is a chain of events that are pre-set and cannot be avoided.

  4. Preston Renfrow

    Twain mixes comedy with darker themes to produce the effect of apathy in Satan. Satan, being an angel, sees humans as small and insignificant, unable to make a major impact with their short time on Earth. The darker themes in the story are presented by Satan in a light, almost insignificant way that makes Satan look apathetic.

  5. Caty Holbrook

    1. Moral sense is knowing the difference between right and wrong. Satan in the story implies that wrong doing is a human thing. “No, it was a human thing. You should not insult the brutes by such a misuse of the word; they have not deserved it” Twain makes you rethink it because many thought a force of evil made humans do wrong but in reality its just human nature. “…a home of impurities;…” “…And man has the Moral Sense…” Moral sense i can be a burden because if you have none then you don’t understand what wrong doing is, therefore it’s not purposeful.

  6. Caty Holbrook

    2. Mysterious Stranger explores survival of the fittest through moral sense. Man commits wrong doing through going to war with each other causing nations to fall. A Man with more moral sense is more likely to survive because they can tell the difference and avoid doing wrong doing. “who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; “

  7. Caty Holbrook

    3. This book explores naturalism due to Satan telling the boys that the environment affects a persons life. He implies that life is a dream and their life is imagination. That many of their beliefs are thought up purely by Man. “there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream—a grotesque and foolish dream.” He tells the boys that since life is a dream, they are merely a thought and a mean less thought at that. “And you are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought,…”.

  8. Caty Holbrook

    4. Twain mixes comedy and dark themes by the way he portrays Satan. Generally Satan is viewed as cold and evil but in the book he has manners and humors the boys with his gifts. “Why, it is merely the truth, and truth is good manner” “The castle is done. Do you like it?” The theme is survival, Satan views the world as empty and man clinging to survive one another. “Life itself is only a vision, a dream…Nothing exists; all is a dream.”

  9. jason Dandeneau

    1. Moral sense is knowing right from wrong and good from evil. Satan makes the boys question there sense of morality by showing the boys where humans are immoral and evil “Satan was accustomed to say that our race lived a life of continuous and uninterrupted self-deception”. Twain makes you think morality because it shows you that what you did was wrong, if we don’t know what we did was wrong we can’t feel bad about it. Evil is a burden on morality because if we do not know evil we can’t do evil things.

  10. jason Dandeneau

    2. Mysterious Stranger explores survival of the fittest with moral sense. He shows that man does wrong by going to war and conquering other nations. Men with more moral sense are more likely to survive because they will not commit wrong or evil. “sometimes to crush a weak nation; but never a war started by the aggressor for any clean purpose–there is no such war in the history of the race.”

  11. jason Dandeneau

    3. Mysterious Stranger leans towards naturalism when Satan tells the boys that there life is a dream and reality does not exist. “You are not you–you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream–your dream, a creature of your imagination”. I would classify this story as naturalism because of the magic and powers Satan uses to impress the boys.

  12. jason Dandeneau

    4. Twain uses a dark sense of humor with Satan, Satan views humans as insignificant and useless to earth as they are not there long “In this life, Satan, but in another? We shall meet in another, surely? Then, all tranquilly and soberly, he made the strange answer, There is no other.” Satan will kill somebody but they are so insignificant to him that he will just go back to joking with the boys like nothing has happened.

  13. Gavin Grider

    1. Moral sense is the ability a creature has to distinguish good deeds from evil. Satan explains to the boys how their morals affect others around them in different ways and eventually everything that they do that’s “good” will eventually lead to something worse. Twain makes us think about our daily lives and how we do things that we think are good and actually turn out to be a bad move in the future. Evil is a burden on morality because if a creature does not have the moral sense, it cannot know whether or not something it has done is evil or good.

  14. Gavin Grider

    2. Mysterious Strangers explores the idea of survival of fittest through different characters and their situations that lead to other resident’s reactions being that of instinct, for example the concept of witches. In the book a character is accused of being a witch because she is somehow becoming rich, because of a cat she owns that gives her two silver coins every morning. Thus the residents are afraid of her because of this. I think this novel has a sense of stagnation where the same thing continually happens; people are accused, then they are prosecuted, and then jailed or killed. Or people are judged based on their qualities and actions and if they go against the normal flow then they are a danger to people, so I think it also has a sense of survival.

  15. Gavin Grider

    3. Twain shows a view of a religious society then shows a figure that represents naturalism that shows us a new definition of realism, disapproving of the society’s actions and beliefs with his own factual evidence. This causes us to think about the situation differently than we would if we were just presented with the society and no outer character explaining the reason for things happening the way they do. I think the classification of the story is leaning towards naturalism by the fact that the situations in the story stem off the concept of time and fate.

  16. Gavin Grider

    4. Twain intertwines different scenarios of happiness and joyfulness inside of dark situations that make the reader feel suspenseful because they know something bad is about to happen but no one knows except for the reader, the boys, and Satan. For example the fact that Satan laughs at things that would otherwise not be very funny in the view of the reader with moral sense they would in fact be quite dark.

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