Twain’s Bad Little Boy: The Rest of the Story

As much as I enjoy Mark Twain’s writings, I have to say that he didn’t always get it right. Take for example what he told us about a particular boy, in his “Story of the Bad Little Boy.”*

This particular bad little boy was named, Jim. This in itself is unusu¬al. As Twain points out, everyone knows from their Sunday School books, that bad little boys are ordinarily called “James.” Nevertheless, this particular bad little boy was called “Jim.”

His unusual name is only the beginning. There are many other interest¬ing differences between this particular Jim and the Jameses of the School lessons. As Twain tells us for example, “Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and be good. Oh no!; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was ready for the dog too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him.” As curious as that is, it was not the exception, but the norm. It seemed Jim’s whole life was patterned nearly totally opposite as the events that occurred in the life of the bad little Jameses as told in the Sunday School papers.

If you are the curious sort, and if you haven’t read Twain’s “full” account of this bad little boy, then you are probably wondering whatever happened to this Jim as he grew up. Twain doesn’t leave us in the dark on the matter but spells it out for us explicitly, “And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalist wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legisla¬ture. So you see there never was a bad boy James in the Sunday-school books that had such a streak of luck as this sinful Jim with the charmed life.”

As you can see Mark Twain didn’t know everything. If he had, he would have told us about the important things that happened to Jim when his term in the legislature was over. Take heart, dear reader! I am now prepared to present to you “the rest of the story.” Even if your curiosity isn’t running rampant it would do you some good to read it, lest Twain’s short ending leaves you with wrong impression–the impression that you shouldn’t put much stock in the Sunday School books.

To begin with, most curiously, this Jim didn’t get implicated in a financial scandal, though while in the legislature he was involved in a few. He didn’t get impeached and cast out of office. He didn’t serve time in prison where he reflected on his life and saw the error of his ways as have happened to our exemplary James. Oh! no. Jim retired at a ripe old age and spent the rest of his days lavishing upon himself all sorts of earthly pleasures with his ill-gained fortunes. He didn’t have an earth-shattering revelation that taught him the true values of life. He never did turn over a new leaf and become the giving¬est, helpfulest man in the county. He didn’t even lose it all in a shady, risky, speculative investment. No, Jim died filthy rich in the most comfort-able house around, surrounded by a large band of money grubbers pretending to be friends.

Having read all about all these differences between the grown up bad boy named Jim and the Jameses we read about in the Sunday School papers it should¬n’t surprise you to hear that even after death his scenario was quite different from that of all those Jameses.

In the Sunday School papers, if James ever dies–perhaps at the hands of the headhunters to whom he was trying to present the gospel, after he had learned his lessons and repented–he invariably stands before God the Creator and Judge who proclaims as the Good Book said He would, “Well done, good and faithful servant; . . .; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21, KJV)”

Not so with Jim. Instead, Jim stood before God the Creator and Right¬eous Judge and heard, as is also written in the Good Book, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41, KJV)”

And so you see, while this Jim’s life varied greatly in details from that of the Jameses we read about, the moral of the Sunday School lessons stands: There are consequences to pay for sin. Even if your life is as “charmed” as was this Jim’s, be sure your sins will find you out. Mark Twain didn’t always get it right.

*Quotes are from “Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old” (1875), as found in, Bradley, Scully, et. al., editors, The American Tradition in Literature: Fourth Edition Vol. II, (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1956, 1957,1961, 1962, 1967, 1974.

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