Roughing It | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Roughing It | Chapters 59–61 | Summary



Chapter 59

The young Mark Twain stays afloat by selling articles to various publications, but some of them shut down and the work is unsteady. At one point, he spends two penniless months avoiding everyone, not paying his rent, and "slinking" around town. He self-consciously eats the meals his landlady provides, pawns his possessions, and feels "meaner, and lowlier, and more despicable than the worms." He has one dime to his name, and holds onto it as a talisman against committing suicide. He also receives regular calls from a bill collector, to whom he owes $46 for a loan he had generously given to an old schoolmate in Nevada. They smoke cigars and gab together, and Twain actually looks forward to his visits. As Twain walks the streets one night, he meets another unfortunate soul who looks "so homeless and friendless and forsaken" that Twain feels drawn to him. "Misery loves company," he quotes, and the two men become "inseparable" once they discover their common misfortunes. The man, Blucher, is a former journalist who lost his job and became homeless, living in boxes or barrels along the wharves. Once, when he hadn't had a bite to eat in 48 hours, he had found a dime. He spent hours debating how to spend it until hunger at last drove him out into the city. As he passed Martin's Restaurant, an old haunt of his, a near-starving man ("a very allegory of Hunger!") approached him and begged for money to buy food. Blucher escorted the man back to Martin's and had him order whatever he wanted. "Charge it to me, Mr. Martin," he told the owner, who agreed. Blucher watched the poor man wolf down $6 in steaks and coffee, and then went down the street for a ten-cent modest meal "and feasted like a king!"

Chapter 60

A miner friend takes Twain to the washed-up mining camps in Tuolumne, where they live in one of a half-dozen cabins. A town of thousands had once stood there, but nothing now remained of it. The few miners who had stayed were devoid of hope for a better life, or even of returning home; they had "forgotten the world and been forgotten of the world." Here, Twain tries out "pocket mining," hunting for random deposits of gold on the surface of the land, a hit-or-miss enterprise. The pocket miners may go for months without finding any, living on credit, and suddenly strike a pocket worth hundreds or even thousands. They then pay off their debts and, inevitably, blow the rest in a single night of revelry. Pocket miners search for gold on hillsides, using pans to filter the sediment in search of gold flakes. These flakes often lead to a loaded pocket, which may be a single shovelful containing gold nuggets or a large haul that takes weeks to clear. Local hogs also help root out gold as they turn over piles of dirt in search of food. The rain washes the dirt away, exposing any gold flakes. Twain tells of two passing Mexican "greasers" who discovered a $120,000 pocket in an area two local miners had been searching for years. He then explains he has described pocket mining because it is an unusual subject not often seen in print, and he hopes its "novelty" will interest the reader.

Chapter 61

Miner Dick Baker tells Twain of his former pet cat, Tom Quartz, whom he claimed was born for pocket mining. The cat would tag along on outings, turning its tail up and heading home if he sensed the spot had no gold. At promising spots, the cat would stick around and inspect the pans of dirt for shiny flakes. Once Dick and his partner dig a shaft, and the curious cat follows them inside and lays down for a nap. They forget he's there and set up explosives to blast the rock. The cat "shot up 'bout a mile an' a half into the air," sneezing and tumbling wildly, until it lands with a thump two minutes later. Battered and soot-covered, the disgusted cat coolly stalks off toward home, giving Dick the cold shoulder.

Twain mines for two months in the area, but the pockets are all empty, "as barren as our own," he writes. For several weeks they try new locations, wandering in the mountains and sleeping outdoors. They enjoy the hospitality of other miners, just as other miners have found a meal at their own cabin when passing through. Twain ends the chapter with a footnote that provides a glossary of common mining terms, including placer diggings, pocket diggings, quartz, prospecting, indications, panning out, and prospect.


Twain hits rock bottom in San Francisco, but even in his sorry state, there are friends to be had and people who have it worse than he does. He still has a roof over his head and a generous landlady who continues to feed him, far more than the homeless Blucher has. Blucher's story of the starving man shows, though, that there is even greater misery than his own. His incredible generosity in buying an extravagant meal for the poor wretch (while spending only a dime on himself) shows the goodness humanity is capable of. Even one as down and out as Blucher has heart enough to help those less fortunate than himself. Twain describes the man as "a very allegory of Hunger;" an allegory is a story about a character, place, event, or figure that reveals a message or moral, thus furthering the theme of language in the text.

In Chapter 60, Twain offers something new: a description of the ugly downside of the mining boom. The men who live in the Tuolumne mining camps are shadows of their once-hopeful selves. Their dreams have turned to dust along with the once bustling town; they are too forlorn even to return to their childhood homes. Perhaps, as Twain himself felt in Chapter 42, they can't bear the thought of returning as failures rather than rich men. Their existence is hand-to-mouth. The story of the Mexicans highlights how much dumb luck has to do with fortune when it comes to mining. The two men who've been mining there for years find nothing, while the passing Mexicans strike it rich. Twain's comment at the end of the chapter plainly states his goal in writing the book: to provide "novelty" to entertain the reader.

The story of Tom Quartz in Chapter 60 reminds readers that miners are regular people, too—they love their pets and enjoy bragging about them, too. Dick's tale is obviously exaggerated—the cat was probably not blasted a mile and a half into the air. (And if it had been, it certainly would not have survived the return to earth!) However, the personality of the cat comes through clearly and makes the reader smile. Who hasn't known a prissy cat that thinks it is a human? The cat creates a connection between the reader and the miners, making their lives seem more real somehow.

Unfortunately, Twain's pockets are as empty (of money) as the mining pockets are of gold. He gains nothing but experience for his many months of labor, though at least he can use this experience as material for a book. His inclusion of a mini-glossary in a footnote is curious. Why now? It would have made more sense to include the mining definitions far earlier in the text, when stories of mining country first appeared. This footnote serves as an example of Twain's overall writing style for this book, which is episodic and with an informal structure. When Twain thinks of an anecdote or bit of information, he simply drops it in wherever he is in the writing.

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