Chapter 34 in the book ‘The Innocents Abroad’ by Mark Twain focuses on Twain’s impressions from his travel to Istanbul in 1867.
Before starting, I would like to tell about his reputation in writing with a strong language as far as it could be understood from the words he chose, and his view of writing; his rough style must not be ignored while his ideas about Istanbul is being read. Moreover, his approach was a Western’s consideration. The scope of this paper will be Mark Twain’s Istanbul impressions, referring to Edward Said’s ideas about ‘Orientalism’.
To begin with, he starts to share his impressions with an overall picture of Istanbul. ‘Mosques are plenty, churches are plenty, graveyards are plenty…’ (Twain, 1869, p.265). Mosques, churches, and the graveyards were given as material signs of religious believes; however right after this overall picture, he is starting to criticize the rottenness of the city. ‘…but morals and whiskey are scarce. The Koran does not permit Mohammedans to drink. Their natural instincts do not permit them to be moral.’ (Twain, 1869, p.265). Besides, later on this paragraph, he is examining about the Sultan’s bigamy as a sign of corruption. His point in this paragraph, and generally in this text is despite the material manifestations of religious and conservative lifestyle, the people and the authority were corrupted spiritually and morally. The example of slaves which were being sold as goods, especially women slaves from Circassia and Georgia, were given to support his ideas about the corruption of the community. In addition to this, he is not accusing Muslims and Turks of the city in this case, also Christians, and Jews, Greeks and Armenians are not free from his grip. Crown it all, he thinks that the Greeks are the guiltiest.
Secondly, another image that Twain insists to stress is ownerless dogs of the city; according to his version ‘the celebrated and slandered dogs of Constantinople’. ‘I have always been led to suppose that they were so thick in the streets that they blocked the way; that they moved about in organized companies, platoons and regiments, and took what they wanted by determined and ferocious assault; and that at night they drowned all other sounds with their terrible howlings. The dogs I see here cannot be those I have read of.’ (Twain, 1869, p.266). Although outwardly it was not that big of a deal, he harps on about the dogs in almost five pages. Indeed, Twain was trying to use instance of dogs to show his readers the daily situation of the Ottoman Empire. In those days, even though the Westerns seem to believe that the case of the Ottoman Empire had closed, people were not sure about the situation. In deep down of their hearts, they were still afraid of comeback of the Ottomans. However, Mark Twain was verifying the use of the metaphor ‘Sick Man’ from his point of view.
In the final analysis, while Mark Twain’s approach to the East is being analysed, it could be easily seen that his perspective is exactly the same with Edward Said’s definition of Orientalists. His mind was full of bias about Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire, and Islam. Even though he claims that he was shocked when he had arrived, what he saw was known by him before. This text was not just a writer’s innocent ideas and impressions about a city, it was written to shape an image of the capital of the East. Even the words were cherry-picked to manipulate people’s opinions about the Orient.
Ali Kamil Güzel
Twain, M. (1865). The Innocents Abroad, 265-275
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism.