At the beginning of Pudd'nhead Wilson a young slave woman, fearing for her infant's son's life, exchanges her light-skinned child with her master's. From this rather simple premise Mark Twain fashioned one of his most entertaining, funny, yet biting novels. On its surface, Pudd'nhead Wilson possesses all the elements of an engrossing nineteenth-century mystery: reversed identities, a horrible crime, an eccentric detective, a suspenseful courtroom drama, and a surprising, unusual solution. Yet it is not a mystery novel. Seething with the undercurrents of antebellum southern culture, the book is a savage indictment in which the real criminal is society, and racial prejudice and slavery are the crimes. Written in 1894, Pudd'nhead Wilson glistens with characteristic Twain humor, with suspense, and with pointed irony: a gem among the author's later works.
OK, so everyone talks about how bitter Mr. Twain was in this book. But I think it's not bitter enough. Tom Driscoll should have gotten off. In real life, he would have, and nobody would have believed the switch-at-infancy happened, nor that the fingerprints on the knife proved anything. People don't let go of their beliefs that easily.
In real life, Charlie Chaplin lost a paternity suit when blood tests proved he was not the father of the child in question. Why? Because the science was new, and people wanted him to be found 'guilty' (in quotes because it was a civil trial, but in the public's mind a criminal one).
In real life, O.J. Simpson got off although Ron Goldman's blood (proven by DNA) was in O.J. Simpson's Ford Bronco. One of the jurists after the trial said that could have been anybody's blood.
In real life, Pudd'nhead's clients could have gotten off if the D.A. was a decent man who recognized he was prosecuting the wrong guys. But convicting Tom Driscoll? No way.
I must admit, though, that the twist at the end where Tom Driscoll was treated differently because he was property and not a person was a nice, bitter twist. Although in real life they would have just lynched him.
Miriam D. reviewed Pudd'Nhead Wilson (Airmont Classics Series; Cl124) on
As a single mother who strives to make sure her children have the best the world has to offer, this quick and exciting read gives insight to what, if any, harm uncontrollable doting on your children could cause. At first glance, Puddenhead Wilson by Mark Twain, is about a slave mother named Roxy, who wants the best for her child and devises to switch her unfortunate child with the heir of a plantation at the unsuspecting age of eight months old. It turns out that the son to whom she gave life becomes the oppressor and the âmarster's sonâ became her SON. She gave him everything from the opportunity to a better life to, later, the sacrifice of her own free life. It would seem that this is the basis of the story but there are many underlying themes to explore.
This book, also, hinges on the theme that you are product of your environment not birth right. The âpoorâ or less fortunate child became rich and pompous while the heir learned to live the pauper life. Hence, when all was said and done, the pauper was not comfortable in his new setting as the reinstated heir. He had come to learn and live the pauper life with a slave mentality, mannerisms and dialect. This is a classic reversal of our social hierarchy placed a humorous and witty style.
One of the other components of the book was the quick calendar entries at the beginning of each chapter. It showcases Twain's ability to bring pause and thought â" perhaps even a change in that thought. The use of them by Judge Driscoll to impress his friends and colleagues cues the reader in that they are not to be ignored or overlooked but pondered.
This is one of Mark Twain's best pieces. It is a quick look into how he really felt about our land of the rich and famous. Amazingly it still holds true today.