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In the Beginning : According to Mark Twain, Chauvinism Can Be Traced Back to Adam

September 10, 1989|JACK SMITH

HAVE FOUND in my library a copy of "Extracts From Adam's Diary," as translated by Mark Twain. Evidently, from a note Scotch-taped inside the cover, it was a gift from Mrs. John K. Thomas of Ramona.

I didn't even know that Adam had left a diary, much less that Mark Twain had translated it. One thinks of Twain as being so essentially American he hardly fits the role of a philologist, capable of translating what must be the most ancient of languages.

The main reward in examining Adam's diary today is the book's revelation that the male chauvinist attitude toward women was full blown in Adam himself and thus goes back to the very beginnings of the species.

The diary begins with the appearance of Eve in Eden, and Adam notes: "The new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about . . . . Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain . . . . We? Where did I get that word? I remember now--the new creature uses it."

From that entry we see that the personal pronoun has given man trouble from the beginning. Later, Adam notes: "The new creature says its name is Eve. Says it is to call it by when I want it to come. It says it is not an It, it is a She. It is all one to me; what she is were nothing to me if she would but go by herself and not talk."

The diary is at odds with the Bible in saying that it was Eve who named the animals, not Adam. The Bible says, you may recall: "And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field . . . ."

Not so, according to Adam, who issues the complaint: "I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest."

Adam says Eve gives names to things because they look like the name. "There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it 'looks like a dodo.' "

This may also account for such curious names as platypus, kangaroo, giraffe, elephant and hippopotamus. One can hardly deny that those animals do look like their names.

Adam notes that Eve has "taken up with a snake." He is glad, "because the snake talks, and this enables me to get a rest." As we know, the snake talks Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, against Adam's warning that it will bring death into Eden. Being an environmentalist, Eve says death will give the buzzards something to eat.

Well, we know what happens. Adam and Eve know sin; they hide their nakedness with fig leaves; the shadow of death is placed over them, and they are banished from the garden.

Adam finally mellows toward her: "I find she is a good deal of a companion. I see I should be lonesome and depressed without her, now that I have lost my property. Another thing; she says it is ordered that we work for our living hereafter. She will be useful. I will superintend."

When Cain comes, Adam regards him as some sort of strange animal and says that Eve "caught it" out in the timber. First he thinks it is some kind of fish, then a kangaroo. When it grows a tooth he decides it must be a bear.

Adam goes hunting for another creature of the same kind, and while he is gone Eve catches another one. "She calls it Abel."

Then come another boy and some girls, as the Bible says. Adam does not say that Cain slew Abel, but he notes that "if Cain had stayed a bear, it would have improved him." I was hoping he would explain where Cain's wife came from, but he doesn't. Perhaps Cain was guilty of incest as well as murder.

In the end, Adam comes to love Eve: "I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life."

And so it all began.

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