Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain: Theme of Racism

August 31, 2022 by Essay Writer

One would expect a novel written with a setting in ante-bellum south to discuss issues dealing with slavery. This is exactly what Mark Twain did in his novel Pudd’nhead Wilson. The following discusses the topic of slavery and how it was used in Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. Pudd’nhead Wilson is the story of two boys, one a black slave and the other a white man, switched at birth. Tom, the slave who is living “white” with his foster father, his uncle, goes unnoticed in this condition for all of his life. However, Tom has several bad habits, mostly gambling, that eventually cost him his freedom. He racks up large gambling debts, and in an effort to pay them off sells his own mother back into slavery. His mother escapes, though, and demands to have her freedom bought back or else she would tell Tom’s uncle the truth about him being black. Tom was faced with a decision of asking his uncle for money; he decides it would be a better idea, though, to rob his uncle to buy his mother’s freedom and pay off his gambling debts. In the process, though, he ends up murdering his uncle and is eventually caught. The truth about him is let out and Tom is set into slavery and “Valet” de Chambre” is set free. The issue of slavery comes up throughout the novel. The reality of slavery is shown in many places in the novel. There are two main aspects of slavery dealt with most realistically in the novel: sex, and violence.

The reality of sex between slaveholder’s and slaves is a main point in the novel due to the fact that “Roxy”, a black slave woman, conceives the child of an influential white man. This almost certainly was a reality in the ante-bellum south. For evidence of this one has to look no further than one of the country’s first presidents, Thomas Jefferson and his illicit affair with a slave that produced some offspring. As for violence in the novel Valet de Chambre is abused with beatings by his master, Tom, and in one incident is stabbed with a pocket knife. Most people today, except for a few stupid rednecks that must wear white bags over their heads to keep the air from escaping their skulls, believe that slavery is an immoral under any circumstance. Some people believe Mark Twain was a racist himself after having read Pudd’nhead Wilson. This might be an easy assumption to make considering the way the slave characters are treated and some of the statements made about them such as, “Why were niggers and whites made? What crime did the uncreated first nigger commit that the curse of birth was decreed for him?”. That quote was referring to Tom thinking about slavery after having learned his true heritage as a slave.

A lot of authors, though, tend to disagree about the way slavery was discussed in Pudd’nhead. They believe that Twain was commenting on the stupidity and injustice of slaveholding. An excerpt from the “Twayne’s Author’s Series” points to this when it states, “For the first time in his fiction Mark Twain confronts the slaveholding South head on. And given his fast-rising cynicism in the 1890s he sees such a culture, despite his nostalgic memories of it, as the ultimate absurdity of human existence.” Twain had ridiculed slavery before in earlier work, as stated in an essay by Henry Nash Smith entitled “Pudd’nhead Wilson as Criticism”.

Smith states, “The problem of tone is often difficult in Pudd’nhead Wilson, but Mark Twain’s earlier ridicule of Southern aristocratic in Life on the Mississippi..”. That quote points to the fact that Twain had already stated he believed the morals and ideals of the common southern slave holder were unjust and immoral. It likely he would continue this them and viewpoint in later works. Twain also touches on the belief system of Southern slaveholders in an effort to make the slaveholding practice appear ridiculous. He shows throughout his novel that slaveholders did not believe they were in the wrong or committing any moral atrocities. Arlin Turner wrote a statement to this effect in an essay entitled, “Mark Twain and the South”. He states, “In addition, the effect of slavery on the master class becomes clear, as Mark Twain exposes the essential dishonesty entailed by the owning of slaves. Percy Driscoll feels so righteous for selling his three household slaves, not down the river but elsewhere, after they have confessed to petty thievery, that he wants the account to serve his son as an example of moral conduct.”. Turner was referring to one of Twain’s characters in Pudd’nhead to feeling good about selling his slaves.

Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson covers slavery, of which all aspects shown through several other authors expert testimony or literary evidence. He deals with some of the realities involved with slavery. He appeared racist at some points, but overall he attempted to convey the belief that slavery was a stupid and unjust system.

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