Pudd'nhead Wilson

by: Mark Twain

Chapters 18 and 19

The judge's murder, with him asleep, bathed in candlelight, a pile of money before him, is a Dickensian moment. The crime is bloody, more or less unintentional, and has ramifications beyond the death itself. "Tom"'s killing the judge to free himself and Roxy is almost a literalization of the "killing" of the real Tom some twenty years before. By dooming Tom to life as a black man Roxy had destroyed his possibilities for success. Now, by killing the judge, "Tom" seems to finish what Roxy has started: not only is the Driscoll family money in the hands of a false heir, but "Chambers", the real Tom, is also in "Tom"'s possession, and can now be sold "down the river" if "Tom" chooses.

The indictment of the twins emphasizes the divide between opinion or prejudice and truth. The twins have seemed suspicious to the reader all along, yet the townspeople have taken them in without so much as a question. It is thus appropriate that they are finally being interrogated. However, they are being questioned about something they didn't do. Pudd'nhead Wilson struggles against the mass of superficial circumstantial evidence about motives and whereabouts and tries to make his "science," the fingerprints, yield some hard evidence. He is hampered, though, by inaccurate information that he yet refuses to question: he assumes that "Tom" did not know of his uncle's new will, and he assumes that the figure seen leaving the judge's house actually was a woman. Questions of identity and status continue to circulate: Who killed the judge? And is Roxy a free woman or a slave?

The possibility of a second duel highlights these issues. The first duel, between the judge and Luigi, was a ridiculous attempt to erase a legitimate response (the kick that "Tom" receives) to an inappropriate insult. The second duel actually is an effort to protect someone's honor: the judge has slandered the twins badly in his campaign speech. Roxy's escape, the duel, the murder, and the pending trial are all moving the plot toward having to resolve challenges to identities and reputations.