The Californian’s Tale


Mark Twain

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Themes and Colors
Manifest Destiny vs. Reality Theme Icon
Masculine vs. Feminine Space Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Californian’s Tale, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Manifest Destiny vs. Reality

Mark Twain’s “The Californian’s Tale” is a story about the harsh realities that too often befell Americans who, lured by the nineteenth-century notion of Manifest Destiny, headed West to seek uncertain fortune. The journalist John O’Sullivan coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” in 1845. As the philosophical justification for westward expansion, Manifest Destiny held that the Christian God sanctioned Americans to expand their dominion—with its twin attributes of capitalism and individualism—all the way across the frontier…

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Masculine vs. Feminine Space

Throughout the story, Twain emphasizes the dichotomy between masculine and feminine space. Importantly, he wrote in the nineteenth century, when the notion of gendered space for men and women created an ideology of “separate spheres.” Men dominated outside the home in the harsh, competitive public sphere of work, politics, and violence. Women, by contrast, tended to the domestic sphere of household management, child-rearing, and moral guidance. Under the control of a nurturing female presence, the…

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Twain’s story is ultimately a tale about how desolation and loneliness can lead to madness. Despite its promise to bring vast wealth to Americans who conquered the West, Manifest Destiny instead unleashes the depravity of greed and ruin both on the land surrounding the Stanislaus and on the men who came to mine that land. Their land scarred, their fortunes lost, their wives and families gone, and their futures bleak, the miners retreat into a…

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