In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain described his lifelong fascination with the Mississippi River and with the influence that the river had on the people and towns in the surrounding area. Through a series of stories and anecdotes about river life, Twain portrays the river not simply as a moving body of water, as a geographical entity, but as a dynamic component of life and culture in that time and place.
One of Twain's most telling experiences occurred when, as a young man, he was serving as an apprentice to a riverboat captain. While at the helm one day, Twain perceived danger lurking under the surface and, without consulting the captain, suddenly changed course. The captain, a man named Bixby, immediately asked him to account for his action and Twain replied that he had seen an underwater hazard, a bluff reef, just ahead. Bixby, however, declares that Twain has made a mistake and that he should resume the original course.