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Written by Timothy Sexton
How Society Determines Individual Identity
Two boys who look exactly alike and who do not appear to be too terribly dissimilar in terms of intelligence and personality. As far as anyone could tell by looking at them for a long time or talking with them for a short time, they might as well be actually biological relations. And yet place them side by side, correctly identify which is which and one goes off to a life of privilege while the other is condemned to a live privation. While the narrative exploration of this theme is conducted through the prism of class and birthright, it can—and has through adaptation—be readily applied to contemporary circumstances in which the privilege is awarded through celebrity or economic status rather than breeding and bloodlines.
Democracy vs. Aristocracy
On its most basic level, the book explores the greatness—or potential greatness at any rate—of the American experiment with democracy. Ultimately, when all is said and done, the book is saying just one thing, but a thing so revolutionary that when Twain wrote it, more than half the countries in the world were still rejecting it as national policy: a system of government capable of endowing great power in a young boy simply because he is the “rightful heir” to that power is still—after everything else—still nothing more than a country being led by a boy and it really doesn’t matter whether that boy is a prince or a pauper. Seems crazy that this could ever be open to debate, much less still a topic for serious argument in the 20th century, but there you go.
The Educational System
One of the most valuable lessons to be gained from reading the book is one all easily overlooked in real life: you can’t learn what you aren’t taught. The young prince could have been taught about the needs of the common people and learned quite a great deal about it, but what he learned would have been misguided because he would have been taught by people who didn’t actually know about the needs of the common people. Only by becoming mistaken for a commoner can the prince actually be taught what he needs to learn. It is a lesson that has failed to be applied to educational systems for millennia. Instead of teaching students what they need to learn, they learn things they don’t need to be taught in order to live or succeed.
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