American Literature

Short Story Reviews Punch Brothers Punch by Mark Twain



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Punch, Brothers, Punch is a short story written by Mark Twain. It was also published under the title a literary nightmare. It was published in 1876 and tells the story of his encounter with a song that he just can not get out of his head. More importantly in historical significance though is that this is a very clear example of the meme long before the idea of a meme existed in the sense that it does now, and while this is largely done for the sake of humor it is still an interesting idea.

The jingle which gets stuck in his head during this story reads:

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

CHORUS

Punch brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

This part of the story was not actually written by mark twain. Instead a number of other people who had seen a sign with the costs of fairs and recognized that it was poetic.

The basic premise of this story is that the author has this bit of flotsam stuck in his brain unable to escape from the idea. He is eventually able to tell someone else who happens to be a preaches but by telling him it relieves his mind some, unfortunately it gets stuck in the other mans mind who ends up going to a funeral and is unable to focus on the eulogy because of the poem stuck in his head, and then when he finally talks to the deceased mother he discovers that the same idea had been stuck in his head.

This story was actually used as an example in the Richard Dawkins book Unweaving the Rainbow as an example of a meme because that is the most basic idea. Something that may or may not be of any use but captures the mind of the person and is hard to get rid of.

Despite the historical interest of this story the real value of this story is that it is fun to read. Mark Twain is writing something here that really is entertaining and the song that is stuck in your head is something that we have all faced at some point in our life.

More about this author: Elton Gahr

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