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Summary of Samuel Clemens "Cannibalism in the Cars"

Summary of Samuel Clemens' Cannibalism in the Cars


I was riding the train one day when it made a stop in Indiana, and "a mild, benevolent-looking gentleman of about forty-five, or maybe fifty" sat down next to me (110). We got on very well, conversing on many topics. The subject of politics came up and he said to me "let me give you a secret chapter of my life" (110).

He began: 'on December 19, 1853 I was riding the evening train from St. Louis to Chicago. There were twenty-four passengers aboard, and all of them were male. Everyone got on pretty well, and the overall mood was a happy one. Around 11 p.m. it became very windy and it began to snow hard. The train started to slow way down as it tried to push through the snow that was piling up on the tracks. The passengers began to become very concerned, because they were in the middle of nowhere with no chance of help from anyone. At 2 a.m. the car was awoken suddenly when someone yelled out "all hands to the rescue" (111). We all went out to shovel the snow from in front of the train. We lasted for about an hour before gave up. It was useless, especially since the fore-and-aft shaft of the driving wheel had broken when the train was trying to push its way through the snow. They had no food or water, but they did have an abundance of wood. They had no choice but to wait out the storm.

Over the next few days the train was silent. The days passed slowly as the men grew hungry and hungrier. On the seventh day, Richard H. Gaston announced: "it cannot be delayed longer! The time is at hand! We must determine which of us shall die to furnish food for the rest!" (112). Nominations were thrown out. Nominations closed, and Mr. Gaston called for a vote. This ruling was objected to, so they elected officers. There was a short break, and when they came back they began senate. It was decided that Mr. Harris and Mr. Messick would be eaten. Mr. Harris was very tasty. For each meal they elected new people to eat. Up next was Walker of Detroit; he was very good, and I even wrote to his wife and told her so. For breakfast we ate Morgan of Alabama. For supper we ate Davis from Oregon; he was not very good. We held another election and up next on the menu was Baker of Georgia. We ate Doolittle, Hawkins, McElroy, Penrod, two Smiths, Bailey, an Indian boy, an organ grinder, and Buckmister. Finally, relief came. Morning elections had dubbed John Murphy as breakfast, but he was saved when help came. Murphy ended up marring the Mr. Harris' widow.




With that the man, who had gotten on the train in Indiana, got up from his seat and exited the train. Before he left he told me that he fancied me as much as he had fancied Mr. Harris, and that he would look for me the next time he was on the train. I was stunned, distressed, and bewildered. I was very glad that he was gone. It freaked me out even more when he said that he had liked me as much as he had liked Mr. Harris. I asked the conductor who that man was, and he told me that he used to be a member of congress. He had got stuck in a snow drift; he was frostbitten and freezing. He was mentally ill for the next two to three months after that incident. Now, he is a monomaniac, and when he gets onto that old subject he won't stop until everyone aboard the train has been eaten up. When there isn't anyone left to eat he says: "then the hour for the usual election for breakfast has arrived, and there being no opposition, I was duly elected, after which, there being no objections offered, I resigned. Thus I am here" (117).

Sources

Clemens, Samuel. "Cannibalism in the Cars." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Oxford: Oxford, UP, 1992. 110-7.

Published on December 5, 2012 by Sophia Brookshire © All Rights Reserved

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