Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Question of Identity 1. Introduction “The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself. ” -Thales The role of identity and is related to various other themes in Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson” and therefore functions as the main focus in this paper. Basically every major theme in the book somewhat emerges from the question of identity. The first part of the paper deals with the switching of identities and can be considered as a starting point for the development of the novel.Secondly, it leads to the question of nature and nurture and tries to examine the impact of values and upbringing as well as skin color in the formation of character.
Another aspect dealing with the issue of identity is honor and reputation because personal standing is a big concern to the characters in the book. The purpose of this paper is not to come up with a definite answer to all the questions dealt with. The main idea is to investigate how Twain describes the importance of identity for the characters and for the society in general.One can make a lot of assumptions about the characters, their looks, their heritage and their actions but there is one thing that has to be told: Nothing is as it appears to be.
2. Thesis Statement Identity is a constantly occurring aspect in this paper. By giving examples of several passages in the book I try to find out in what ways identity is depicted and how it relates to the main characters. 3. The Switching of Identities Th...
e switching of identities is the central aspect around which the whole story of this novel evolves.Roxy, the female and probably most memorable main character in “Pudd’nhead Wilson” leads her life in slavery and once gets threatened by her master about getting “sold down the river”.
In order to avoid that her son, Chambers, has to meet the same fate she decides to switch her son with the child of her master, named Tom, which is about the same age as her son. Her son should be able to live the life of a normal white man. No one notices the switching of the babies because Roxy is only one sixteenth black and her child only one thirty-second. Due to this small amount of black blood, both Roxy and her son are considered as slaves.
Furthermore, Roxy’s manner of speech and other accessories such as her head rag are signs of her black heritage. The fact that even Tom’s father, Percy Driscoll, is not able to keep them apart except for their clothing shows that, from a superficial perspective, both babies are considered as white. However, that does not prevent them from being slaves. Linda A. Morris states that during this exchange of identities the real Tom got “stripped of everything”, “his name, his identity, his inheritance, his paternity and his freedom” and thus becomes a slave “in everyones’s eyes”.
Morris, 386) From this point on, Roxy’s biological child is now known as Tom and her master’s child is known as Valet de Chambre. Both are living the life o
the other without being aware of it. As a consequence of Roxy’s action, the fake Tom becomes a spoiled child that gets everything he wants whereas ‘Chambers’ is leading the life of a slave without any privileges “Tom got all the delicacies, Chambers got mush and milk, and clabber” p. 25 Roxy treats Tom like a king even though he is anything but grateful “He was her darling, her master, and her deity all in one…” p. 5 This way of upbringing makes Tom a fairly weak and sickly child for whom Chambers has to be the bodyguard and also has to fight classmates or other children whom Tom does not get along with.
Tom is a character that seems to think that he is better than anybody else. In contrast to Tom, Chambers is being described as being very strong and having a thick skin because of hard labor and the things he has to deal with because of Tom. 4. Nature versus Nurture Later on in the story, Tom becomes a cowardly and cocky man who more or less lives at the expense of his rich uncle, Judge Driscoll who also has to take care of Tom’s gambling debts.
After years his mother Roxy visits him and tells Tom the truth about his heritage which is a shock for him. Tom discovers his real identity which changes his life drastically. He is finally aware of the fact that he is not white and it become noticeable in various ways. “It was the ‘nigger’ in him asserting its humility, and he blushed and was abashed. And the ‘nigger’ in him was surprised when the white friend put out his hand for a shake with him” P. 56 Tom’s behavior is innate and raises the question of nature and nurture, and racial heritage.
Even though Tom is now aware of his origin it does not ultimately change all of his behavior and attitude or as it is described in the book “In several ways his opinions were totally changed,…, but the main structure of his character was not changed and could not be changed”. This condition only lasted for a certain period of time until he “dropped gradually back into his old frivolous and easy-going ways…” p. 57 A similar thing happens to Chambers by the end of the story after Tom has gotten convicted to murder and Pudd’nhead Wilson has found out about the real identities of Tom and Chambers.Being a free man, the original Tom does not know how to deal with this situation because “his manners were the manners of a slave”. He did not learn how to write or to read, nor did he spend much time somewhere else but in the kitchen.
In terms of education and manners, it is more likely that Tom has been able to make a step forward than it was for the fake Tom who was supposed to make a step backwards. It may seem that the upbringing had more impact on the real Tom than his inborn qualities.Mark Twain leaves it to the reader’s imagination about the fate of “the real