Pudd'nhead Wilson

How does society (and his mother, Roxy) view Tom?

Puddnhead wilson

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The tension between nature and nurture is most clearly seen in the character of Tom Driscoll (or more specifically, the young usurper, Chambers, who is unknowingly posing as Tom). Tom grows from a spoiled, fractious child into a lazy, dishonest adult. One argument is that Tom's flawed character is the product of his inherent "slave" or "black" qualities. This would be in line with the racist views widely held in the American South during the Nineteenth Century. Indeed, Tom's own mother, Roxy, suggests precisely this. She hypothesizes that it is Tom's "blackness" which has made him such a coward. Opposing this "nature" theory for explaining Tom's character is the "nurture" view. According to this position, Tom's overindulgent upbringing is responsible for his flaws and failures. From a young age, his every desire is attended to and a sense of entitlement is fostered in him. Once grown, the idea of working or making an honest living seems beneath him. Instead, he feels entitled to just to take whatever he wants, whether or not the item belongs to him.

Though Twain never expressly comes out in support of one view or the other, a persuasive case can be made that he favors nurture over nature. First, unlike other authors of his era, Twain does not embrace the view of African Americans as inherently lazy and deceitful. To Twain, acts of thievery by black slaves are justified acts of rebellion against their white oppressors. Given this perspective, it seems unlikely that Twain believes Tom's African American blood is the cause of his character flaws. Additionally, Chambers' fate, as penned in the novel's conclusion, seems to further support the nurture theory. Chambers, who was actually born Tom Driscoll, the wealthy white heir to the Driscoll fortune, suddenly learns his true identity and gains his freedom. If a person's nature were determinative, then one would expect Chambers to feel at home in the white man's world. However, just the opposite occurs, suggesting that his upbringing as a slave trumps any inherent qualities.