Pudd'nhead Wilson

Pudd'nhead Wilson Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 - 9


Chapter 7

Judge Driscoll gets the honor of being the first to display the twins in public, parading down Main Street with them in his buggy. He shows the twins the new graveyard, the jail, the Freemason's Hall, and the churches. He also takes them to the town hall, the independent fire company puts out an imaginary fire for them, and the Capellos inspect the militia company's muskets. The Judge introduces the twins to the Freethinker's Society and to Pudd'nhead Wilson, to whom they take an immediate liking. Luigi and Angelo even agree to visit Wilson in his home.

That night, while awaiting the twins' arrival, Wilson puzzles over something he had noticed that morning. He had been up at dawn and had seen "a young woman where properly no young woman belonged." It was in Judge Driscoll's house, in the room belonging to young Tom. Tom, the Judge, the Judge's widowed sister Mrs. Pratt, and three slaves were the only ones who were supposed to be in the house. It was a mystery who this girl with a summer dress and pink-veiled bonnet (who Wilson had seen practicing a few dance steps) could be. Toward noon, Wilson had stopped off to see if Mrs. Pratt could throw any light on the mysterious girl's identity. To Wilson's disappointment, he had no luck with the widow and the girl remained an enigma.

Chapter 8

The novel now catches up with Roxy, who had been thirty-five years old when she was set free and went off to become a chambermaid. Roxy spends eight years as a chambermaid aboard a steamboat, where she was a favorite of the officers. However, she develops rheumatism in her arms and is forced to resign her position. She had lived a steady life and had saved up a good deal of money for her old age. However, her bank fails and takes her savings along with it, leaving Roxy a pauper and homeless. She decides to return home to Dawson's Landing. The years have worn away her bitterness toward her son, and she longs to see him. Her plan is to go "fawn upon him," and she hopes "time had modified him, and that he would be glad to see his long-forgotten old nurse and treat her gently."

Roxy learns from Judge Driscoll's slaves that Tom is away in St. Louis, and that he spends most of his time there. Chambers explains to her that Judge Driscoll gives Tom a monthly allowance of fifty dollars to stay away, because "ole marster kin git along better when young marster's away de he kin when he's in de town." But this allowance is not enough to cover Tom's gambling debts, which the Judge soon learns about and must pay two hundred dollars to settle. This leads the judge to "dissenhurrit" (disinherit) Tom. Chambers concludes that it was not long before the Judge forgave his nephew and Tom was again entitled to the inheritance.

Chambers is sent to tell Tom that his old nurse, Roxy, wishes to visit him. Tom is outraged at Chambers, and asks, "Who gave you permission to come and disturb me with the social attention of [blacks]?" Tom then beats and kicks the slave harshly. Roxy is finally allowed in to see him, but is disappointed by the rude treatment she receives. Suddenly, "the fires of old wrongs flamed up in her breast and began to burn fiercely." She tells Tom he has lost one chance with her, and he'll have to get on his knees and beg for another (words that send a chill through Tom's heart). Roxy then threatens to reveal everything that she knows about Tom to his uncle. Tom slumps to his knees and begins begging Roxy to tell him what she knows. She orders him to meet her in the haunted house later that night.

Chapter 9

When Tom goes to meet Roxy at the haunted house that night, he learns that his new gambling debts were not the items that Roxy was threatening to reveal to the Judge. Rather, she has a far more shocking revelation for him. She tells him that he is no more related to the Driscolls than she is; that he was born a slave and is in fact her son, Valet de Chambre. He also hears that the slave who he has been tormenting all these years is the real Tom and true heir to the Driscoll estate. Roxy then tells Tom that all of this has been written down and given to someone for safekeeping, and that this person knows to reveal the truth should anything happen to her. In reality, this is not true, but she knows her son well enough to be certain that he will believe her.

Roxy then turns her attention to "business" and tells Tom that she wants half of his monthly allowance. She inquires as to how he plans to take care of his outstanding gambling debts without alerting Judge Driscoll to their existence (which would almost certainly lead to his being disinherited again). Tom admits "he had been prowling about in disguise, stealing small valuables from private houses." Roxy approves of this conduct and offers to help. However, Tom indicates he would feel better and safer is she were not in Dawson's Landing. Roxy agrees to leave town.

Finally, Tom asks his mother who his real father is, and she is not ashamed to tell him. In truth she is quite proud to announce that his father was Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex. She even remarks that no slave in town is as high born as he is.


Set free by a dying Percy Driscoll, Roxy becomes a chambermaid. This is an interesting professional choice, as it likely means she has to serve wealthy white people - essentially a modified form of slavery. Yet, Roxy doesn't resent this new form of servitude; rather, she embraces and becomes infatuated with it. This suggests that the real evil of slavery is not the manual labor (particularly in a town like Dawson's Landing, where treatment of slaves is relatively lenient); instead, the evil is rooted in the subordination and ownership of another human being, as though they are mere property. Having been released from the legal bonds that previously tied her, Roxy gladly takes up this job serving others, because it her choice to do so. She is now her own person, making her own decisions, and being fairly compensated for what she does. Thus, though it may initially appear that there is little difference between her prior enslaved existence and her present free life, the significance of the change is considerable.

When Roxy returns to Dawson's Landing and visits Tom, she falls victim to his usual disdain for African Americans. However, she quickly turns the tables on him and he is soon on his knees, begging for her mercy. This scene is symbolic, as Roxy, the black, former slave has risen above the white, tyrannical slaveholder. In that moment, it is as though she is representing her entire race as she gets vengeance for the centuries of crimes committed against them by their white oppressors. This same symbolism is present when she orders her former master to retrieve a bottle of whisky for her. However, the symbolism in these scenes is trumped by their irony, for the cruel "white master" who Roxy is imposing her will over is in fact her son, a black slave himself.

As in previous chapters, the arbitrariness of racial distinctions is highlighted here. Prominent white citizens such as Judge Driscoll, Percy Driscoll, and Pembroke Howard premise their quasi-nobility on the grandeur of their ancestry. Because they are descended from the founding families of Virginia, they view themselves as being in a higher class of humanity. However, if ancestry is the basis for nobility, then Roxy's son should be among the town's leading citizens. As Roxy explains, his father, Colonel Essex, was himself in the line of Virginia's First Families. Yet, without Roxy's act of deception, her son would have been destined to the life of a slave - simply because of the tiny fraction of his blood that is black.

After Roxy informs Tom of his true identity, he reveals to her that he has been sneaking around town, robbing the unsuspecting citizens of Dawson's Landing. A stereotypical view of slaves at the time was that they were dishonest. Thus, one might argue that this is Tom's "nature" winning out over his upbringing. However, Twain rejects the image of slaves as inherently deceitful. For Twain, acts of thievery by slaves are in fact acts of survival, defiance, and retribution against their oppressors. But here, Tom's thefts do not conform to this model. Living his life as a wealthy white man, he certainly has no oppressor to rebel against. Rather, Tom acts out of greed, laziness, and desperation. He likely steals because of his over-indulgent upbringing, which has rendered him lazy (and therefore unable to work for the money he needs) and has left him with a sense of entitlement, so that he feels like he can just take what he wants. Under this view, it is "nurture," and not "nature" that has led to Tom's dishonesty.