These numerous instances of concealed or confused identity function on the level of narrative and plot certainly, but more subtly, they force the reader to explore the more central questions of race and gender identity. Although it is a tall order to attempt to separate the literal and metaphorical disguises in this novel by Mark Twain, one of the best examples for beginning the discussion is to examine the way Roxy is presented.
Table of Contents Analysis Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson can seem like an enigma at first, since it is a story about slavery written almost forty years after the end of the Civil War. Certainly race was still a pressing contemporary issue for Twain at the time: Although a black man no longer had to fear being sold "down the river" as Roxy and Chambers do, extreme forms of violence were a distinct possibility.
Part of the point here is that although the institutions surrounding race may have changed sincethe fundamental problems, even byhad not.
By featuring characters who are racially indeterminate--that is, characters who can "pass" or who are not immediately identifiable as black--Twain confuses the issue still further.
When slavery was still legal, an individual's racial profile mattered on a concrete level: Racial identity, by the 's, had become a much more nebulous concept. Broader issues of identity are a compelling problem in this novel. Although this is by no means a carefully structured and polished piece of literature, Twain's multiple plots and thrown- together style do serve to inform a central set of issues, with the twins, Pudd'nhead, and Tom and Chambers all serving as variations on a theme.
The coexistence of many characters and many localized plots mirrors the novel's setting. In its vacillation between the tiny town of Dawson's Landing and the metropolis of St. Louis, and in the centralized presence of the Mississippi River, with its possibilities for endless mobility, the novel offers both hope and despair: The idea of being able to start over is continuously interrogated in American literature.
Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which appeared almost exactly one hundred years before Pudd'nhead Wilson, sketched out the ideals of self-determination and personal identity in American culture: Echoes of Franklin can be seen in the eccentric, scientifically-minded Pudd'nhead Wilson, whose writings mirror Franklin's and whose careful analysis and re-categorization of the world around him is also reminiscent of the American icon.
Pudd'nhead's self-realizations, though, are dark and socially unsuccessful. Twain's characters live in an America where social mores are largely fixed and one's success depends not on determination but on fitting into a pre-existing public space.
Twain, like Franklin, was a celebrated public figure, immediately recognizable as a collection of carefully developed mannerisms and trademark items. Like Judge Driscoll in this novel, Twain somehow found himself high placed enough in society so as not to be bound by its rules.
In Pudd'nhead Wilson, though, Twain looks at those who avoid constraints of reputation and public opinion by being so far beneath society as to be almost irrelevant.
He also looks at those who, like the twins, get caught in the middle, in a mire of shifting opinions and speculations. The "plot" of this novel, if it can be said to have one, is a detective story, in which a series of identities--the judge's murderer, "Tom," "Chambers"--must be sorted out.
This structure highlights the problem of identity and one's ability to determine one's own identity.
The solution to the set of mysteries, though, is an incomplete and bleak one, in which determinations about identities have been made but the assigned identities do not correspond to viable positions in society.
The seemingly objective scientific methods espoused by Pudd'nhead may have provided more "truthful" answers than public opinion, but they have not helped to better society. In the rapidly changing American culture of the s, where race, celebrity, and publicity were confounding deeply ingrained cultural notions of self-determination, the depopulated ending of Pudd'nhead Wilson is a pessimistic assessment of one's ability to control one's identity.
Twain's novel moves us from Franklin's comic world of possibility to a place where self- determination is accompanied by tragic overtones, a place reminiscent of the world of another, later American novel about a self-made man that does not end well: Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.To say that Pudd'nhead Wilson focuses a lot on race is kind of like saying that baby pandas in ballerina costumes are cute.
It's like, duh. While the novel's emphasis on race and its sinister cousin racism may be easy to spot, this doesn't mean that Twain hands us . While there are a variety of costumes and literal disguises in “Puddn’head Wilson” by Mark Twain, one cannot ignore that many of the more ephemeral themes of identity in relation to disguise, gender, and race, are explored through the lens of societal expectations in the face of such masking.
Pudd'nhead's Sources As MT admits in his headnote to The Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins, writing The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson gave him "a sufficiently hard time." According to his account, the idea for the story occurred to him when he saw a picture advertising the exhibition of the Tocci Twins.
Roxy is one of two mixed race characters at the center of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. Roxy is a slave, but “to all intents and purposes Roxy was as white as anybody, but her one sixteenth of her which was black outvoted the other fifteen parts and made her a negro,” (Twain 8).
Character and perception are important themes in Pudd'nhead Wilson. From the 'Whisper to the Reader' forward, Twain emphasizes and builds on the importance of character.
In the maxim from Pudd. David Wilson, “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” is a character that gained its name from the book but many critics have ignore, denied, or belittled his significance to the story.
The result is that Wilson role is considered that of a mere lever, or someone who moves the plot along but has no intrinsic importance.