Skip over navigation

Pudd'nhead Wilson

Mark Twain

Chapters 5 - 7

Chapters 3 and 4

Chapters 8 - 10

Summary

Judge Driscoll and his wife are ecstatic to have "Tom" as a foster son. Not long after Percy Driscoll's death, though, the judge's wife dies, and the judge's sister, Mrs. Pratt, becomes another surrogate parent to "Tom." "Tom" is sent to Yale, where he does poorly. He returns home after two years and generates even more resentment than before, thanks to his newly acquired smarmy manner and gentrified clothes. He soon gives up the clothes but not the attitude. He begins to take trips to St. Louis, where he gets into some trouble. It is hinted that this trouble involves gambling.

The judge, now retired, spends most of his time with Pudd'nhead Wilson, who is the other member of the judge's "Freethinkers' Society." The judge publicly supports his friend, but the rest of the town still finds Pudd'nhead odd. This is not helped by the judge's public promotion of Pudd'nhead's "Calendar," a collection of aphorisms and quips. The public reacts much the same way it did to Pudd'nhead's remark about the half of a dog so many years earlier. This is apparently the same "Calendar" from which the maxims at the beginnings of the book's chapters are taken. Although they find them crazy, the townspeople don't bother Pudd'nhead and the judge: the judge is the most prominent man in town and Pudd'nhead is socially meaningless.

The Widow Cooper, better known as Aunt Patsy, and her daughter Rowena, who live in a small cottage in Dawson's Landing, have advertised that they have a room to rent. One day they receive a letter from St. Louis from a set of twins, Luigi and Angelo Capello, who are interested in the room. The twins' exotic names and their graciously written letter excite the townspeople, who speculate on their noble personalities and potential connections to royalty. Several days later, the twins arrive. They are handsome young men who are absolutely identical, except that one is a bit fairer than the other. They quickly charm the townspeople with their graces. They tell Aunt Patsy that they are the sons of a Florentine nobleman who had to flee following a war. They were sold to a sideshow after being orphaned, but eventually escaped and traveled the world, promoting themselves. As they tell Aunt Patsy this story, a crowd gathers outside her house, eager to see the visitors. Rowena is beside herself with excitement at being connected with such celebrities. Many hours later, everyone in Dawson's Landing has met them, and Rowena is suddenly depressed that the "most splendid episode of her life" is nearly over. Downstairs, though, the twins begin playing a four-handed piece on the piano and she realizes that there is more excitement to come. The villagers are astounded at the twins' abilities, and think that, for the first time, they are in the presence of "masters."

Commentary

Once again Pudd'nhead Wilson is offered as an alternative to the life of the town. He is so irrelevant to society that he can do whatever he likes. The judge, on the other hand, is one of the men who determine what is relevant in society--so he too can do what he likes. But even he is not able to give sanction to Pudd'nhead's philosophies. The sources of power and authority are obscured. However, the newly arrived Italian twins (Luigi and Angelo) seem to possess a self-legitimating quality, based on their good looks and powers of expression. Despite their wild story and confusing past, they are immediately welcomed by the town. So powerful is their fascination for the people that even Rowena and her mother benefit from it.

That the twins' exotic history captures the sympathies of the townspeople is ironic. They claim to have essentially freed themselves from economic slavery and become triumphant through ingenuity and business sense. Their plight as children is similar to the plight of American slaves, and particularly in their good looks and easy manner they are implicitly compared to Roxy and "Chambers". The townspeople, of course, do not know of Roxy's ingenuity in "freeing" her biological child, and they refuse to see the pathos of the equally attractive figures in their own midst.

The twins' story also draws on a type of character important to the American imagination of the time, a type of character that frequently appears in Twain's work: the self-made man who is half entertainer, half con-artist. The twins, upon their escape from their first exhibitors, use what they have learned in captivity and begin exhibiting themselves. They create their own publicity and construct their own past in order to prey on the susceptibilities of the public. As character types, they are similar to the "King" and the "Dauphin" in Twain's earlier Huckleberry Finn: tricksters who travel along the river, relying on its constant traffic to keep them one step ahead of their reputations. They also represent a malevolent version of Twain's own public persona, which relied on a mixture of tall tales, distinctive appearance, and personal charm. In this way they pair interestingly with Pudd'nhead Wilson, who personifies the darker, more philosophical side of Twain as celebrity.

Obviously, in their near-identical appearance, the twins are also meant to be compared to "Tom" and "Chambers". Angelo and Luigi, though, seem to have a distinguishing feature: one is fair, the other dark. These terms suggest racial designations as well as simple complexions (although we have no reason to think that Angelo and Luigi are of different races from one another) which, again, raises a question. Why are they, the exotic outsiders, worthy of interest and celebration when the town's own "twins," Tom and Chambers, are not? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Angelo and Luigi are sanctioned outsiders--by their own account, European and famous--while slaves are irrevocably outsiders. More importantly, to compare the son of a white woman to the son of a black woman so explicitly would dangerously subvert the existing social structure by suggesting that the racial designations upholding that structure are meaningless, and can easily be subverted by those who choose to give their own account of themselves, those who try to "pass."

More Help

Previous Next
Poor Source

by GreatDukes, September 04, 2013

Riddled with inconsistencies and falsities. Looks like some disgruntled professor got in and trolled the summary something fierce.

0 Comments

1 out of 2 people found this helpful

Follow Us