The Lowest Animal
Mark Twain’s, “The Lowest Animal,” creates a cynical view of humankind (mankind used in the essay) when compared to animals through his use of satire, sarcasm, and irony to illustrate that human qualities are not those of animals, and that difference sometimes makes humankind lower than animals in his opinion.
Mark Twain was one of America’s great writers. He was known for his humoristic view of life in many of his greatest works such as the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Yet his view of humankind changes in this essay. An article by Richard Nordquist states that “The severity of Mark Twain’s views on religious motivation was part of his increasing cynicism” when the author wrote “The Lowest Animal”. The essay appears to be written, however, from personal observations or experiences that shaped his view. That is clearly seen by his definition of “Moral Sense” as the quality that allows humans to do wrong and opens the way for his satire.
Twain’s point of view creates an essay that is satirical in nature. It overlooks and exaggerates humankind to make various qualities unique to humans and not to animals to create his theory that humans are lower than animals. An example is found in the opening where Twain humbles humankind by drawing attention to specific traits. “I have been scientifically studying the traits and dispositions of the "lower animals" (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man . . . this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals”( Twain). While the essay is an example of satire, Twain uses sarcasm to show his contempt for human traits.
Twain’s sarcasm mocks humankind both in his imaginary experiments and by phrases such as “In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which the other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning” (Twain). One of his “experiments” uses sarcasm by illustrating that humans are never satisfied with what they have. He writes, “ . . . men who have accumulated more millions of money than they can ever use have shown a rabid hunger for more . . . I furnished a hundred different kinds of wild and tame animals the opportunity to accumulate vast stores of food, but none of them would do it . . . . These experiments convinced me that there is this difference between man and the higher animals: he is avaricious and miserly; they are not”. The use of sarcasm shows Twain’s contempt but it also puts a mirror to the trait I believe might be a plea for change. Sarcasm is not the only literary device used in this essay, Twain also makes use of irony.
“The Lowest Animal” is also an example of irony and one of Twain’s literary devices as a humorist. In this essay he uses it to show the complete significance of his words to make his point clear to the reader even if humans don’t realize it is one of their traits. To do this, he draws attention to the morality of humankind and demonstrates that it is a defect not an admirable quality. He writes “I find this Defect to be the Moral Sense. He is the only animal that has it. It is the secret of his degradation. It is the quality which enables him to do wrong. . . . It could never have been intended to perform any other. Without it, man could do no wrong. He would rise at once to the level of the Higher Animals”. Twain’s use of irony to show that humans, who in reality are higher than animals, are lower than animals is an effective literary device for this particular essay.
In conclusion, the examples cited for Mark Twain’s, “The Lowest Animal,” define his cynical point of view of humankind when compared to animals through his use of satire, sarcasm, and irony to illustrate that the qualities that make them human are not those of animals, and that difference sometimes makes humankind lower than animals in his opinion.