Pudd'nhead Wilson Summary and Analysis
by Mark Twain
Chapters 4 - 6
From this point in the novel on, the young usurper is called "Tom," while the real heir is referred to as "Chambers." Tom is a bad boy from the beginning (Roxy describes him as "fractious") and his poor behavior continues as he grows older. While Tom is spoiled and pampered, Chambers is given only mush and milk. As a result, Tom becomes sickly while "meek and docile" Chambers grows up strong, eventually becoming a great fighter and swimmer.
Roxy is a "doting fool of a mother" and she becomes more than this because her deception has made her child "her accepted and recognized master." Roxy's affection, however, disgusts Tom, who views his mother as merely his slave and chattel. This leads Roxy to constant schemes of vengeance, as she plans "his exposure to the world as an impostor and slave." But, these schemes are always forgotten as soon as there is a "moment Tom happened to be good to her" and then she was proud her son was "lording it among the whites and securely avenging their crimes against her race."
Similarly, Chambers suffers from Tom's cruelty. The slave learns from Percy Driscoll early on that he can never defend himself against his young master. The two boys are together throughout their childhood, with Chambers serving as Tom's bodyguard. One day when the boys are fifteen, Tom gets a cramp while showing off in the river and shouts for help. The other boys assume Tom is just playing a joke and leave him to drown. Chambers, believing his master is in real danger, dives in and saves Tom's life. This humiliation proves too much for Tom to endure, as the other boys laugh at him and mock him for the fact that he owes his "second birth into life" to a slave. Tom orders Chambers to attack the laughing boys, and when Chambers refuses (because there are too many of them) Tom wounds him with a knife.
During the fall of Tom and Chambers' fifteenth year, Dawson's Landing experiences two grand funerals - one for Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, and one for Percy Driscoll. Shortly before Driscoll's death, his brother purchases Chambers to save the family from the scandal of selling him down the river for no reason (as Tom hoped to do). On his deathbed, Driscoll releases Roxy from her servitude, and she decides to take her freedom and become a chambermaid on a steamboat. Tom is sent into the keeping of Judge Driscoll and his wife, and these "childless people were glad to get him." Debts from Percy Driscoll's failed land speculations leave Tom a pauper. However, he is comforted when the Judge tells him that "he should be his heir and have all his fortune when he died."
After two years of child-filled bliss, Mrs. Driscoll passes away. Two years after her death, when Tom has reached nineteen years of age, he is sent to school at Yale. However, he only makes it two years before giving up and returning to Dawson's Landing. While away at school, Tom picks up some bad habits - particularly drinking and gambling. He becomes bored with the small town and frequently escapes to the bustling city of St. Louis, where he can engage in his vices unbeknownst to his uncle. Before long, Tom's digressions get him into "deep waters."
Judge Driscoll retires from the bench in 1850, and serves as President of the Freethinker's Society. The society's only other member is Pudd'nhead Wilson, and the two meet weekly for freethinking discussions. Wilson's friendship with the town's chief citizen does not alleviate his reputation woes; in fact, it exacerbates it when the Judge decides to take some of the "ostensible philosophy" from Wilson's "whimsical almanac" and read it to some of the town's citizens. Apparently, "irony was not for those people" and any doubt about Wilson being a pudd'nhead are immediately removed.
Widow Cooper - who the town affectionately refers to as "Aunt Patsy" - lives in "a snug and comely cottage" with her daughter, Rowena, and her sons, all of whom are of no consequence. Aunt Patsy is in need of a lodger to supplement her income. She puts out an ad, and receives a response letter from a set of Italian twins - Luigi and Angelo Capello - who offer to pay double for the room. The family is thrilled (particularly Rowena) as they will soon become the talk of the town. Judge Driscoll even stops by to discuss the letter and congratulate them. Luigi and Angelo eventually arrive at the Cooper home and are described as "the handsomest, the best dressed, the most distinguished-looking pair of young fellows the West had ever seen."
The twins' charm quickly wins over the Cooper family's good graces. Over breakfast the following morning, Angelo explains the pair's history, telling them that their father had been a Florentine nobleman. However, because he had been on the losing side of a war, the twins' family was forced to flee Italy for Germany. At age ten, Luigi and Angelo were orphaned and seized to pay off their late parents' debts. The brothers were musical prodigies and fluent in four languages, and as a result were "placed among the attractions of a cheap museum in Berlin to earn the liquidation money." Angelo further informs the family that it took the twins "two years to get out of that slavery."
Aunt Patsy's slave, Nancy, interrupts breakfast to tell the family that the house is overflowing with people who have come to see the foreigners. This is a proud day for the widow and Rowena, and for the first time they understand "the real meaning of that great word Glory." As each townsperson comes in, Rowena and her mother introduce them to "Count Luigi" and "Count Angelo." The citizens of Dawson's Landing had never before been in the presence of a titled person, and had not expected to be this morning. They were honest people and did not pretend to be at ease before the twins. While a few "tried to rise to the emergency, and got out an awkward 'My lord' or 'Your lordship,'" most simply "fumbled through the handshake and passed on, speechless." When the twins knock out "a classic four-handed piece on the piano," the people of Dawson's Landing "realised that for once in their lives they were hearing masters."
The key theme raised in these chapters is nature versus nurture. More specifically, the chapters pose the question of whether it is an individual's innate qualities that determine the type of person he or she becomes, or whether it is the environment in which he or she is raised that is controlling. In truth, the book does not expressly provide a conclusive answer either way. Tom Driscoll, or really the young usurper posing as Tom, is a perfect example. On one hand, one might argue that "nurture" is responsible for Tom's disposition; being raised white and rich led to him becoming a spoiled, cruel young man. This argument would further assert that had "Tom" remained a slave and received a more austere upbringing, he likely would have grown to be meek and docile, as Chambers did. On the other hand, it might be suggested that it was Tom's inherent "nature" which determined the kind of man he would become; that his laziness and dishonesty are in fact manifestations of his inborn slave qualities. In fact, Roxy later suggests precisely this, claiming that it's Tom's "blackness" that causes his cowardice.
The argument that Tom's laziness and dishonesty are a result of his "nature," can be undermined. Unlike his contemporaries, Mark Twain refuses to portray his black and slave characters as inherently dishonest or lazy individuals. Rather, as Twain frames it, acts of thievery by slaves against their masters are a form of defiance and rebellion. It is a way for the oppressed to strike back at their oppressors. As such, it is unlikely the author would consider such traits as cowardice, laziness, and deceitfulness to be the natural qualities of African Americans. Rather, it seems more probable that Tom's deeply flawed personality and character are the products of an over-indulgent childhood.
Another dominant issue in these chapters is the debate as to whether Roxy has actually "saved" her child by switching him in infancy. Undoubtedly, saving her infant was the motive behind Roxy's scheme. She feared that her child would one day be sold down the river, and wanted to protect him from this harsh, unbearable fate. Measured in this way, Roxy has arguably saved her baby, as he is now guaranteed a life of luxury, free from the risk of being sold to a deep-South cotton plantation (at least for the time being; by the end of the novel, we will see that this is not actually the case). However, it is unclear whether the person she has turned him into is a fate worse than being sent down the river. Roxy, by swapping the children, has effectively transformed her precious child into the thing she despises most - a white master who shows no sympathy or consideration for the plight of slaves or blacks. To Tom, Roxy is no longer his mother, or even a human being for that matter. "She was merely his chattel, now, his convenience, his dog, his cringing and helpless slave." So disgusted is she by the monster he has become, that Roxy begins to plot Tom's exposure. Thus, while Roxy was successful in saving her son from a harsh life on a Southern plantation, there is a considerable chance that she has doomed his soul.
In Chapter 6, Twain uses the story of Luigi and Angelo Capello's childhoods to once again highlight the arbitrariness of racial classifications. The twins recount how they were essentially sold into slavery as children to pay off their parents' debts. They were forced to work and perform without compensation, and even had to beg for food. The twins' harsh childhood is a parallel for the experiences of slaves and their children in the American South. Luigi and Angelo are able to work their way out of slavery, quite literally becoming self-made men. Moreover, for overcoming such obstacles, they are lavished with praise, admiration, and respect. By contrast, African American slaves don't share the freedom to pull themselves out of their oppression, and are dependent entirely on the whim of their masters. American blacks who do manage to escape the bonds of slavery do not receive the respect of the community. Instead, they remain at the lower levels of society. The only difference between the twins and slaves in the American South is race. Luigi and Angelo are white, while American slaves are not. To punctuate this arbitrariness, Twain notes that one of the Capello twins has a darker complexion than the other. Of course, the townspeople make no distinction between the two brothers in response to this difference in skin tone. Doing so would be irrational, as the twins are otherwise "exact duplicates." Yet, inexplicably, the town does draw a distinction between a pair like Tom and Chambers based on race, even though they are so similar in appearance that Roxy is able to switch them without attracting anyone's notice.
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- Mark Twain: Biography
- Pudd'nhead Wilson Summary
- About Pudd'nhead Wilson
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of A Whisper to the Reader
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1 - 3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4 - 6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 - 9
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10 - 12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13 - 15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16 - 18
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19 - 21
- Summary and Analysis of Conclusion
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
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