Roughing It | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Roughing It | Chapters 72–77 | Summary



Chapter 72

Twain's party visits the ruined temple of Lono, whose high priest was uncle to Obookia, "a young native of fine mind" who was taken to New York along with three other young native boys. Obookia converted to Christianity and received an education, but died before he could return home with the first group of missionaries. There are several "pagan" temples in the area, as well as wooden idols carved from logs. One temple is said to have been built by dead men in a single night, and it is still avoided at night by the islanders. The god Lono started out as a much-loved king who was promoted to a god. In a fit of anger, he killed his wife, the goddess Kaikilani Aiii. Regret for his actions drove him mad. He then wandered the land boxing and wrestling, but inevitably killed his mortal opponents. He founded the makahiki games in his own honor, and then sailed away from the islands, saying he would return some day. (This is how the people came to accept Captain Cook as Lono, says Twain.) Twain also notices a group of native women swimming in the nude, and he "sat down on their clothes to keep them from being stolen."

Twain then relates how, while the first missionaries were on the voyage to Hawaii, King Kamehameha died and his son Liholiho took the throne. Liholiho disliked the old taboos, as did the widowed queen Kaahumanu, who felt the taboos were overly restrictive and degrading to women. Drunk with whiskey and encouraged by Kaahumanu, Liholiho had shocked the crowd at a feast when he sat down to eat with the women—and wasn't struck dead by lightning! "The tabu is broken!" the people proclaimed. "It was probably the first time whiskey ever prominently figured as an aid to civilization," writes Twain. The people then realized that "their gods were a weak and wretched swindle," and destroyed many sacred idols. Infuriated, the pagan priests rose up in revolt but were crushed by the king's army. The old gods and idols were abandoned—"the nation was without a religion"—just in time for the arrival of the missionary ship.

Chapter 73

Mark Twain's party hires a local to take them by outrigger canoe to the ruins at Honaunau. They view the sea reef below them, the distant shoreline "honeycombed with quaint caves and arches and tunnels," and a pod of playful porpoises leaping through the waves. They also see a co-ed group of naked islanders "surf bathing" (surfing), a pastime Twain attempts once and gives up after ingesting "a couple of barrels of water." At last they arrive at the ruins of the "City of Refuge." In ancient times, murderers could escape here to sanctuary—if they could outrun the vengeful relatives of the murdered person. Rebels, too, could come here to confess and be absolved by the priest, after which it was taboo to harm them. Criminals were killed at a stone tower nearby. Twain notes that the temple walls are a mystery similar to the pyramids of Egypt, "constructed by a people unacquainted with science and mechanics." How did they quarry, transport, and raise the enormous blocks of lava, he asks? The stones are fit together precisely, with no cement used, yet the temple has lasted for centuries. A high chief of the temple once brought an 11-foot stone to the temple as his own personal lounger to nap on. He was supposedly fifteen feet tall and snored loud enough to wake the dead. Twain's party then walks an old cobblestone road said to have been built by Kamehameha, which reminds him of the ancient roads of Rome. They seek out a 50-foot lava flow that resembles a waterfall, "a petrified Niagara" and explore lava tube tunnels that end in cliffs high above the sea

Chapter 74

Twain next sails to Kau, where his party buys horses to ride to the Kilauea volcano, a leisurely two-day journey. As they approach the volcano, they begin to see cracks in the earth that emit sulfurous vapors. The volcano's crater dwarfs that of Vesuvius, writes Twain, with a circumference of ten miles (Vesuvius' diameter is only 1,000 feet). After nightfall, they hike to the crater, overhung with hazy fog "splendidly illuminated by the glare from the fires below." They then arrive at a tiny, thatched lookout house on the crater's rim and view the incredible glowing crater floor below, where an eruption is taking place. Much of the floor is dark, hardened lava, but a mile-square of it is "streaked and striped with a thousand branching streams of liquid and gorgeously brilliant fire." White-hot lava bubbles and spurts, and the party watches as broken chunks of cooled earth break off, float down flaming rivers, and are consumed. The lava makes sounds as it flows, rushing, hissing, and coughing, which Twain likens to the sound of steam boilers. "The smell of sulfur is strong," he notes, "but not unpleasant to a sinner."

Chapter 75

The next night, Mark Twain's party visits the crater again, this time to hike to the North Lake (lava pool) at the bottom of the crater. The eruption has now finished, but though the crater floor looks hard and black, it is still hot underfoot. Everyone decides to turn back, including the local guides, with the exception of Twain and a man called Marlette. The pair streaks across the hot floor until they reach a cooler spot, then wander through a dark, "gloomy desert" of black walls and chasms. Marlette then realizes they've lost the path through the crater. They proceed gingerly, "surrounded with beds of rotten lava through which we could easily break and plunge down a thousand feet." At last they find the path and reach the North Lake, where they watch the boiling lava, squinting into its blinding glare. Spurts of lava shoot upward out of lava chimneys around the edge of the pool, the "gossamer veil of vapor" making the scene appear "fairylike and beautiful." Suddenly, a piece of the rock ledge they are sitting on overlooking the lake breaks off and tumbles in. The men skedaddle in a hurry, get lost again in the black maze of lava, and finally make it back to their hotel at 2 a.m. Twain then tells how the volcano had erupted in 1840 and surged over the land in a path five miles wide, 200 feet deep, and forty miles long.

Chapter 76

Mark Twain's party rides 200 miles around the island over the course of a week. The trip is slowed by their "Kanaka horses," who stop at every house and hut. They're conditioned to do this, says Twain, because the islanders are such gossips that the horses are used to making frequent stops. (This reminds him of a previous humiliating incident in his life, when he had hired an old milk-delivery horse to take a young lady on a drive. The horse stopped at all the houses along its old route, refusing to obey Twain whatsoever and vastly amusing the young lady at his expense.) On the journey they see a breathtaking 1500-foot waterfall, as well as a pack of wild horses in the mountains. Twain claims the horses had never drank water before, but subsisted on dewy plants instead. They offer the horses pails of water, which they try to bite rather than drink. The same horses balk at crossing a running stream, for they've never seen one before.

They end their journey at Kawaihae, where Twain sells his horse for a $1 profit. "It was the first commercial transaction I had ever entered into and come out a winner," he writes. Twain then sails onward to Maui, where he lounges for several weeks. He picnics in the valley of a lush gorge and visits the Haleakala volcano with friends, taking two days to climb to the summit. At dawn, they look out over the vast terrain 10,000 feet below which, by a trick of the eye, seems to float above the mountain peak. They roll great rocks down into the dusty crater for fun. The crater has a 27-mile circumference, large enough at the bottom to hold a great city like London. A bank of clouds then moves in below the peak, blocking out the view of the land and ocean entirely. The party falls into awed silence at the sight, and Twain feels like the "Last Man" on earth, left behind after Judgment. A splendid sun rises in the East, "the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed," says Twain.

Chapter 77

In Maui, Twain and his companions encounter a man named Markiss, who breaks into their private conversation, babbling about the smoky chimney in his house. Two weeks later, the same man listens in on Twain's conversation and once again butts in, this time boasting about a tree that is 415 feet in diameter. A man in the party objects that Markiss had taken him to see this legendary tree, but that in reality, it was a very ordinary tree of no great size. Markiss then claims that the tree had been stripped down over the years for building North Seas whaleships. Ten days later, Markiss again breaks in on Twain's conversation about a horse, boasting about his own mare, Margaretta. This horse was so fast, he claimed, that she once outran a storm for 18 miles—with his dog "swimming behind the wagon all the way!" Twain grows to loathe the sight of Markiss and avoids him, but he is everywhere. He intrudes once again as Twain speaks about a merchant who is stingy paying his workers. Markiss condescends to him terribly, calling him "ignorant as the unborn babe!" He claims to have known a miner who was blasted into the air for sixteen minutes and the company "DOCKED HIM FOR THE LOST TIME!" Twain excuses himself and writes "another night spoiled" in his diary, then leaves the island the next day. Years later, Markiss is found hanging in his own bedroom, with a note in his own handwriting stating that he has committed suicide. The jury, however, finds that it must have been murder, for Markiss had said nothing for 30 years that wasn't a lie.


Religion is front and center in Chapter 72, with Twain relating the transition from pagan worship to Christianity. When King Liholiho upset the long-held taboo by eating with women, he may have opened a bigger can of worms than he intended to. This one act showed the people that their gods were not what they believed, with destructive results. The priests, a powerful class with high social standing, are so threatened by this turn of events that they raise their own army. Liholiho, though, manages to stay in power (and possibly come out looking like a hero) by defeating them. Social progress and women's equality is a significant aspect of the story here, with Kaahumanu encouraging the king to raise the status of women. Twain rarely comments on women's rights in the text, so this tidbit is noteworthy. Twain deftly explains how the missionaries arrive at the perfect moment to capitalize on the fall of the old paradigm. The new religion of Christianity could much more easily take hold with the old religion in disgrace.

In his usual style, Twain adds humor to the chapter with his wry commentary, such as the joke about whiskey being "an aid to civilization." Twain's comments on the nude ladies swimming reminds the reader that he was a relatively young man himself (age 31), with an eye for the ladies. His somewhat lecherous behavior is meant to be humorous, though (and may not have actually happened).

Chapters 73–76 are mostly straightforward travel narrative, with Twain giving in-depth descriptions of the fascinating and exotic places he visits. He frequently uses comparison to paint a picture for the reader, such as comparing the size of local volcanoes to each other and to the famous Vesuvius (Italy). Moreover, his sensory descriptions are very effective in creating a sense of realism for each location he describes. This is particularly true as he describes the various volcano visits, with their hissing sounds, sulfur smell, blinding lava, and the feel of the heat beneath his shoes. Twain shows his reckless side again when he and Marlette venture into the dangerous Kilauea crater the day after an active eruption. One can't fault his courage, but his common sense may be in question. The episode makes for exciting reading, though, taking the reader to an otherworldly place in a unique adventure. Twain goes beyond sensory descriptions, though, offering insight on how these adventures made him feel. Some were exhilarating, while others inspired quiet awe, such as the sunrise view from the top of Haleakala (Chapter 76).

His description of himself as the "Last Man" left on earth refers to the biblical idea of the final Judgment, as embodied in Mary Shelley's novel of the same name. At Judgment, sinners will be left behind on earth while the faithful will go to Heaven. In Shelley's novel, a plague of unknown origin has ravished the earth and left the "Last Man" bereft of company struggling to determine the nature of his sin. Twain implies that he too must determine what he has done wrong and how he may perform penance to return to civilization. Twain also continues to inject humor with exaggeration (the high chief who snored loud enough to wake the dead) and jokes (his jest about the smell of sulfur not being unpleasant to sinners). And he continues with the tall tales, such describing horses who've never drunk water. Markiss of Chapter 78 takes the cake for tall tales, however, outdoing everyone around him with his annoying one-upmanship.

Not once thus far on his trip to the Sandwich Islands has Twain mentioned his work—the reason he is there in the first place. In fact, Twain wrote 25 letters about Hawaii for the Sacramento Union, the newspaper that footed the bill for his exotic excursions. Twain also lectured about the islands after his return to the United States. Again, he must rely on recycled material here to round out the book, a fact that neither he nor his publisher is eager to advertise.

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