- Slides: 14
Puddnhead Wilson Introduction
Brief Summary PUDD’NHEAD WILSON traces the tragic consequences flowing from the double-life that Tom lives as an undeserving and often monstrous heir to his rich uncle’s estate. He is undeserving because he is really a slave who can pass as a white; and he is a monster because he is relentlessly irresponsible and merciless in his cruelty towards his mother, Roxy. She is a slave who at great expense to her own security keeps Tom’s true identity secret. More than once, she gets Tom out of the trouble he causes by abusing his uncle’s finances and honorable reputation with a pattern of compulsive gambling and cowardice. Tom’s lack of courage ultimately brings him into conflict with his uncle, Judge Driscoll, who is forced to defend Tom’s honor in a duel when Tom refuses to fight after being humiliated in public by Luigi Capello. His lack of fortitude also [*361] is the reason why Judge Driscoll, and Tom, conspire to discredit Luigi publicly after the duel (which Driscoll and Luigi survive). It becomes part of a chain of events that leads to Tom killing his uncle and conveniently laying the blame on the Capello twins, who ran to assist the Judge who had been fatally stabbed by Tom had tried to steal the Judge’s money while his uncle slept in his house office. Tom’s secret life, as not only a false heir but also as a thief, intersects with the protagonist, David Wilson, as the story unfolds. As Twain tells it, Wilson is a young lawyer whose reputation is sullied by making an innocuous but ill-considered remark shortly after arriving in town. The misstep causes the village residents to refer to him as “pudd’nhead, ” a regrettable label that clings to him for the next twenty years and prevents him from practicing his calling. But, much later on, Wilson’s public reputation grows when he represents, and successfully defends Luigi at a public trial after he is falsely accused of killing the Judge.
Organizational Pattern Pudd’nhead Wilson involves three individual stories. The first story is that of Pudd’nhead Wilson himself. The second story is about a racial switch between babies and their ultimate growth into manhood. Lastly, the third story is about a set of foreign twins who befriend the people of Dawson’s Landing, Missouri. The transitions between these stories are abrupt; however, Twain allows a thread from the past story link the next together. Consequently, it is important for students to know that, although these stories are set off from each other, they all gradually overlap. Pudd’nhead plays a small part in the race switch; the race switch and Pudd’nhead play a small part in the twin story, and ultimately, all three stories are one.
Setting The majority of this novel takes place in Dawson’s Landing, Missouri. This town is next to the Mississippi River and is fairly close to St. Louis (“half a day’s journey by steamboat) where a couple of scenes take place (p 1). The year is 1830 and slavery is still rampant. (setting laid out on p 1) The setting of the story is essential to understanding the customs of the characters. Mark Twain does a great job of enveloping the reader in the environment. The language, countryside, and characters are all specific to this region of the country.
History of Era - Mississippi in the 1800 s. Families on the Auction Block A strong family and community life helped sustain African Americans in slavery. People often chose their own partners, lived under the same roof, raised children together, and protected each other. Brutal treatment at the hands of slaveholders, however, threatened black family life. Enslaved women experienced sexual exploitation at the hands of slaveholders and overseers. Bondspeople lived with the constant fear of being sold away from their loved ones, with no chance of reunion. Historians estimate that most bondspeople were sold at least once in their lives. No event was more traumatic in the lives of enslaved individuals than that of forcible separation from their families. People sometimes fled when they heard of an impending sale.
One Drop Rule The nation's answer to the question 'Who is black? " has long been that a black is any person with any known African black ancestry. This definition reflects the long experience with slavery and later with Jim Crow segregation. In the South it became known as the "onedrop rule, '' meaning that a single drop of "black blood" makes a person a black. It is also known as the "one black ancestor rule, " some courts have called it the "traceable amount rule, " and anthropologists call it the "hypo-descent rule, " meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group. This definition emerged from the American South to become the nation's definition, generally accepted by whites and blacks. Blacks had no other choice.
Women and Children Virginia was one of the first states to acknowledge slavery in its laws, initially enacting such a law in 1661. 36 The following year, Virginia passed two laws that pertained solely to women who were slaves or indentured servants and to their illegitimate children. Women servants who produced children by their masters could be punished by having to do two years of servitude with the churchwardens after the expiration of the term with their masters. The law reads, “that each woman servant gott with child by her master shall after her time by indenture or custome is expired be by the churchwardens of the parish where she lived when she was brought to bed of such bastard, sold for two years. . ” 37 The second law, which concerned the birthright of children born of “Negro” or mulatto women, would have a profound effect on the continuance of slavery, especially after the slave trade was abolished—and on the future descendants of these women. Great Britain had a very structured primogeniture system, under which children always claimed lineage through the father, even those born without the legitimacy of marriage. Virginia was one of the first colonies to legislate a change: Act XII Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother. WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall committ ffornication with a Negro man or woman, hee or shee soe offending shall pay double the ffines imposed by the former act. 38
History cont. Selling South To meet the growing demands of sugar and cotton, slaveholders developed an active domestic slave trade to move surplus workers to the Deep South. New Orleans, Louisiana, became the largest slave mart, followed by Richmond, Virginia; Natchez, Mississippi; and Charleston, South Carolina. Between 1820 and 1860 more than 60 percent of the Upper South's enslaved population was "sold South. " Covering 25 to 30 miles a day on foot, men, women, and children marched south in large groups called coffles. Former bondsman Charles Ball remembered that slave traders bound the women together with rope. They fastened the men first with chains around their necks and then handcuffed them in pairs. The traders removed the restraints when the coffle neared the market.
Characters Tom – Although Tom is given a better life than other’s (such as slaves), his life is not void of trials. It is not uncommon for people to look at other’s lives and assume that they “have it easy”. The grass is always greener. Tom may have been raised as the “white” and free son, but he struggles with vice and crime (for which he must suffer). Throughout the story, nevertheless, Tom keeps up the privileged and wealthy persona. Chambers – In comparison to Tom, Chambers was forced into a role in which he felt he fit. Chambers’ life was hard as a slave, but he makes the best of his life, stays positive, and stays true and self-respecting. He never acts out and feels comfortable with the cards that life has dealt him.
Characters Pudd’nhead – Pudd’nhead may be the most relatable character in that he has been labeled at an early stage of the story and struggles to prove that he is otherwise throughout the rest of the novel. In secondary school, it is not difficult to be labeled, either by a group of friends, interest, skin color, or nickname. Pudd’nhead is not a Pudd’nhead at all; however, until he achieves something extraordinary, no one will believe otherwise. This problem is similar to Tom and Chamber’s; however, his circumstance has more to do with his personality, than his skin color or class, which can be even more trying at times. Tom and Chambers belong to a group; Pudd’nhead is singled out, which makes his life seem lonelier.
Themes RACISM Roxana, a 1/16 black servant, switches her 1/32 black baby boy (Chambers) for her master’s white baby boy (Tom) in order to keep Chambers from being sold down the river. After this point in the novel, there is an ever present theme of what it means to be black, and what it means to be white. These babies appear to be the same skin color, yet, they are treated completely different. The novels “racial switch” storyline makes the reader asks questions such as: Who gets to decide how races are treated? Can an individual defy the odds or betray the expectations of his race? Should race matter in a society capable of equality? (chapter 3) NATURALISM VS. REALISM. In order to understand how the races are to be treated, Twain looks at the actions of Tom and Chambers. Are the stereotypes associated with race due to heredity or choice? Is this Naturalism or is this Realism?
Themes cont. MORALITY. With a novel that is built around a baby switch, gambling, and murder, there is an inevitable theme that tries to define the boundaries of morality. What defines morality? Who gets to decide what is moral and what is not? FAMILY. Family is usually a binding and loving support; in Pudd’nhead Wilson, however, family seems to tear apart the individual. What makes up a good family? Can family problems be Blamed with the immorality present in the novel?
Watch for: Foreshawdowing Irony Imagery Simile
Works Cited “African Americans in Slavery. ” NPS Org. 1 February 2001. Web. 08 November 2011. Banks, Christopher P. “Puddnhead Wilson and hose Extraordinary Twins. ” Kent State University Email. 2008. Web. 08 November 2011. Dixon. “A Concept Analysis on Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. ” Novel. Links. 2008. Web. 08 November 2011. Slavery and Indentured Servants. ” Law Library of Congress. Web 08 November 2011.