The Mysterious Stranger

By Mark Twain
Mark Twain (1835-1910) uses this novel to mock the
conventional ideas about God: that God is a loving ever-present entity who
wants to help people and reward people who do what he wants done and punishes
people who disobey him. He sets his parable in Austria hinting that Austria is
no different than America. It is a country where the people are asleep and way
behind time. They live in an age of belief, rather than science. It is a time
when knowledge is kept from the common people. All people need to know is to be
“good Christians; to revere the Virgin, the Church, and the Saints above
everything.” Twain tell us that “knowledge was not good for the common people,
and would make them discontented with the lot that God had appointed for them,
and God would not endure discontent with his plan.”

Some boys – symbolic of the uncultivated immature people –
meet a very affable elf-like creature who tells them that he is an angel –
which, as we will see, represents God. He tells the boys that his name is
Satan, but not “the Satan.” “The Satan” is his uncle – suggesting that God is
related to evil. The angel explains that “the Satan” was chased out of heaven
because he disobeyed God and enticed the woman God created to eat the fruit he
forbid her to eat, and then went and ate the fruit himself. This suggests that
God is bad-tempered and petulant, fussy about details, not wanting to be
crossed even over a somewhat trivial matter.

The angel shows the boys that he can create tiny people to
build a toy fortress for them, for fun. They watch, almost mesmerized by the
tiny people’s activity. Then they and the angel see two tiny men disagreeing
and starting a fight. The angel becomes annoyed, reaches down and grabs the two
men between his fingers and squashes them. He does this while assuring them
that he is an angel and can never do wrong. The families of the two murdered
men begin to cry and shout in mourning, and the angel, annoyed at the noise,
takes a board and squashes the mourners and the people near them.

Then the angel decides to complicate his building project to
add tension and fun. He causes earthquakes and storms that kill most of the
people. When the boys look on in horror, the angel says that there is no need
to worry, he can always create new people. He explains that they need to
understand that people are to him like bricks to them; he uses them as he sees
fit, including breaking and crumbling them. Satan explains that the problem
with people is that they have a moral sense, they distinguish between right and
wrong, and this sense gives them all kinds of problems. They wouldn’t have had
this problem if Eve had not eaten the fruit.

Satan shows them that he also has the ability to change the
destiny of humans such as them. He manipulates the destiny of one of the boys
and the boy dies while trying to save a girl who was drowning. He gives a woman
a magic cat that can bring her food whenever she needs it; however, people hear
about the cat and burn her as a witch. Thus it is clear that the angel – God –
is uninterested in the people he creates.