Cannibalism in the Cars
"Cannibalism in the Cars" is a short story written in 1868 by American writer Mark Twain. It tells the darkly humorous tale of apparent acts of cannibalism from the point of view of a congressman on a snowbound train. It indirectly satirises the political system of the United States of America.
The story is about a group of men trapped on a train during a snow storm. After a week, the men gradually realize that they must resort to cannibalism for survival. They hold ineffective elections to select candidates, and follow parliamentary procedure to a fault.
The story continues in a similar vein for the other passengers: "After breakfast we elected a man by the name of Walker, from Detroit, for supper. He was very good. I wrote his wife so afterward. He was worthy of all praise. I shall always remember Walker. He was a little rare, but very good. And then the next morning we had Morgan of Alabama for breakfast. He was one of the finest men I ever sat down to, handsome, educated, refined, spoke several languages fluently, a perfect gentleman, he was a perfect gentleman, and singularly juicy."
At the end of the story after the teller of the story departs the train, the conductor clarifies to the shocked listener: "He was a member of Congress once, and a good one. But he got caught in a snow-drift in the cars, and like to have been starved to death. He got so frost-bitten and frozen up generally, and used up for want of something to eat, that he was sick and out of his head two or three months afterward. He is all right now, only he is a monomaniac, and when he gets on that old subject he never stops till he has eat up that whole car-load of people he talks about."
The story uses wordplay to raise to the foreground the latent double meanings that accompany political discourse. It is framed as a second-hand story heard by another train rider, with the narrator using the vernacular and mannerisms of a politician rather than a common man. The conclusion of the story leaves open to interpretation whether the entire story might be a fabrication or might be true but masked away from the popular conscience.