Pudd'nhead Wilson

by: Mark Twain

Suggested Essay Topics

Characters in this novel assume a variety of disguises. These range from "Tom"'s passing as a white man to Roxy's dressing as a man to the dresses "Tom" uses when he's robbing houses. How does the use of literal disguises relate to the use of racial "disguises"? How does the use of disguises provide a commentary on identity? On race?

How do the excerpts from Pudd'nhead Wilson's "Calendar" fit into the text? Do they provide direct commentary? Why are they there? What previous literary work or works do they reference?

How does Twain contrast the twins, Angelo and Luigi, with the near-twins, Tom and Chambers?

Science--Pudd'nhead Wilson's fingerprinting--and public opinion or tradition are opposing forces in this novel. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Which triumphs in the end? Are the two aligned in some ways?

At a few points, as when Roxy tells "Tom" that it is his blackness that makes him a coward, Twain seems to support racist views. Choose a few of these uncomfortable moments and analyze them. Does Twain actually share some of the racist views of the townspeople, or is he simply being provocative? Why do these moments occur? How might our contemporary understanding of race be different from Twain's?

How does Dawson's Landing work as a setting? Why did Twain choose not set this novel in St. Louis or another large town? Why not set it on a plantation "down the river"?

What is the function of comedy in this text? Choose a section where farce or comedy is particularly prominent (like the anti-temperance meeting) and try to explain how it functions in the larger plot. Does comedy distract from the more serious parts of the text?