Pudd'nhead Wilson

Pudd'nhead Wilson Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10 - 12


Chapter 10

Roxy's revelation dramatically alters Tom's perception of the world around him. Never before had he given any thought to "how hard the [slave's] fate seems." Now he questions, "what crime did the uncreated first [slave] commit that the curse of birth was decreed for him?" He further asks, "why is this awful difference made between white and black?" When walking down the street, Tom finds himself involuntarily yielding the road to whites. Everywhere he goes, he fears suspicion and detection. When Aunt Patsy's daughter, Rowena (whom he worships), invites him to dinner, he makes up an excuse, as he "was afraid to enter and sit with the dread white folks on equal terms." Even meals with his uncle have become difficult, as he constantly fears discovery.

It is not long before this passes and Tom is back to his old ways. His previous thieving raid had brought in enough money to pay off his gaming debts and save him from exposure. However, after a subsequent trip to St. Louis, new debts are incurred and another raid is required. We learn that Tom's disguise for these raids is women's clothing, and in fact, Tom was the mysterious girl that Wilson had glanced through his window. Tom had seen Wilson and assumed that Wilson could see him as well, so he had decided to entertain him with a few "graces and attitudes." Tom changes from his disguise into Roxy's somber black clothing, assumes the stoop of old age (to throw off Wilson, in case he spots Tom leaving the house), and slips out. Tom considers putting off the robberies to a later date, but then Roxy tells him of the grand reception for the twins at the Cooper house (which is diverting the town's attention) and changes his mind. Tom robs homes throughout Dawson's Landing, even stopping off at the reception to steal from the Coopers.

Chapter 11

The twins finally arrive at Wilson's home and he entertains them with some passages from his calendar. The group is soon interrupted by Tom, who drops in and joins the party. Tom intentionally gets under Wilson's skin, bringing up his failure to get his law practice off the ground and then turning to Wilson's odd hobbies. He begins by mentioning the fingerprint collection, to which Luigi and Angelo add their own marks. Tom then discusses Wilson's penchant for palmistry. Wilson's pride is saved, however, by the twins' claim that they not only consider palmistry a serious science, but have also had their palms accurately read in the past. Tom is stunned when he hears this. Wilson proceeds to read the lines on Luigi's palm, and finds that he once killed someone; a fact to which Luigi readily concedes. Tom cannot believe his ears, and exclaims that "a man's own hand is his deadliest enemy." The twins explain that Luigi had once been given an unusually shaped knife with a bejeweled sheath as a gift from an Indian prince. Hoping to steal the valuable weapon, a thief had snuck into the twins' room. Though Angelo was asleep, Luigi was awake (with the knife under his pillow) and saw the intruder. As the burglar is about to kill his brother, Luigi slays him with the knife. This story proves quite informative for Tom, who had stolen this very knife from the Cooper home during the reception. He had assumed the jewels were glass, and prior to hearing this tale would have pawned the knife off for a far cheaper price.

The party is once again interrupted, this time by John Buckstone, a local politician who invites the twins to the local meeting of the rum party (Missouri had both rum and anti-rum parties at the time). At the meeting, the Capello twins are invited to join the party's membership; Luigi gladly accepts, while Angelo, a teetotaler, does not wish to join. An intoxicated Tom Driscoll then inadvertently insults Luigi. Because the insult was "delivered in the presence of four hundred strangers," Luigi cannot "let the matter pass or . . . delay the squaring of the account." Luigi draws back and delivers "a kick of such titanic vigour that it lifted Tom clear over the footlights and landed him on the heads of the first row of the Sons of Liberty." A riot breaks out and soon the hall catches on fire. Luckily, there are enough anti-rummies at the fire company to respond to the disaster. However, the firefighters are a bit overzealous (they do not often get the opportunity to show off) and nearly drown the fleeing rummies.

Chapter 12

Judge Driscoll is in bed and asleep by ten o'clock on the night of the fire, and is awake early the next morning to go fishing with his friend, Pembroke Howard. As a result, the Judge is unaware that Luigi Capello kicked his nephew. Shame overwhelms the Judge when he learns that Tom's response to the kick was to bring assault charges against the twin. Judge Driscoll is descended from the First Families of Virginia, and he adheres to a strict code of honor. According to this unwritten code, Tom should have reclaimed his dignity by challenging Luigi to a duel, rather than being so cowardly as to resort to a court of law. However, the criminal charges do result in Wilson's legal case; he defends Luigi, but loses and his client is fined five dollars.

Tom admits to his uncle that he is too afraid to meet the Italian in armed combat. Having a coward in his family is more than Judge Driscoll can stomach, and he rips up the will naming Tom as his beneficiary, right in front of his nephew. The Judge then resolves to salvage his family's honor by fighting the duel against Luigi himself. Following the destruction of the will, Tom resolves to change his ways, so that he might win back his uncle's favor.


As a result of Roxy's revelation that he was born a slave, Tom's worldview is utterly transformed. For the very first time in his life, Tom sees blacks as human beings rather than as mere property or animals. He even bemoans the arbitrariness of society's distinction between races. In addition to sympathizing with the plight of Southern blacks, Tom starts acting as though he was raised a slave and subordinated for his whole life. He yields the road to whites and is uncomfortable dining with them, as he no longer sees himself as their equal. This is perhaps the novel's strongest support for the nature over nurture theory. It appears that Tom's true nature - that of a slave - has emerged. Despite having been raised a wealthy white man and afforded all of life's luxuries, Tom suddenly finds himself acting as though he is at the bottom of the social ladder. His yielding to whites suggests that the oppression his black ancestors suffered for centuries has manifested itself within him.

Yet, the nurture theory ultimately prevails. Not even Roxy's revelation can fully and permanently overcome Tom's spoiled upbringing. After a brief period of humility, he morphs back to the cruel, greedy brat he has always been.

After interrupting Wilson's conversation with Luigi and Angelo, Tom begins mocking Pudd'nhead's hobbies, such as palmistry and fingerprinting. He makes fun of them, not because of any personal animosity or objection to the activities, but rather because he simply does not understand them. This is a common human reaction; rather than attempt to learn about and understand things that seem foreign and confusing to them, people often ridicule and belittle them. This aspect of human nature is responsible for Wilson's nickname. When the people of Dawson's Landing meet Wilson, they do not understand his odd remarks and habits, so they label him a fool. Had they taken the time to get to know him, they likely would have thought very highly of him, as Judge Driscoll and the twins do. It would have especially have been to Tom's benefit to make an effort to learn about and understand Wilson's quirks, as it is Wilson's interest in fingerprinting that is ultimately responsible for Tom's undoing. Ironically, Tom himself notes, "a man's own hand is his deadliest enemy!"

Honor is an important theme that is introduced in these chapters. It is first seen during the rum party meeting, when Tom inadvertently insults Luigi. Being a man of honor and dignity, Luigi cannot stand for being made a fool, particularly in front of such a large audience. Rather than ignoring the remark or simply attributing it to Tom's state of inebriation, Luigi acts quickly to restore his pride. He draws back and delivers a tremendous kick to the unsuspecting offender.

We again see honor arise as a theme when Judge Driscoll learns that Luigi launched his nephew with a powerful kick. As a descendent of the First Families of Virginia, honor and reputation are particularly important commodities to the Judge. To Judge Driscoll, the Italian's kick was a grave affront to the entire Driscoll family. In order to remedy this harm to his reputation, Tom must meet the twin on the field of honor and fight him in a duel - perhaps to the death. That his nephew could potentially lose his life never enters into the Judge's calculation. To him, nothing is more important than restoring his family's good name. Thus, when he learns that Tom is unwilling to engage in such a duel and instead resorts to a court of law, Judge Driscoll is beside himself with anger. He is so angry that he tears apart his will, disinheriting his nephew. Today, most people might consider turning to the legal system to be the most prudent course of action. But according to Judge Driscoll and the code of honor to which he adheres, reliance on the law amounts to an act of cowardice. This seems to be an especially ironic view, given the fact that Judge Driscoll himself used to be an officer of the court.