37 E. Springtown Rd. Long Valley, NJ 07853 (Morris County) | Phone 908.876.3596
37 E. Springtown Rd. Long Valley, NJ 07853 (Morris County) | Phone 908.876.3596

Pudd’nhead Wilson

by Mark Twain

I’m attempting to read at least one classic during every summer reading period. I chose this book because I had fond memories of reading Tom Sawyer as a kid, but I can’t say I liked this one at all. This book is a tragedy masked as a comedy in which two children are switched as infants, one white and high born and one black, by their 1/16th black nanny. Since her son is only 1/32 black, he is extremely light skinned and appears white, however, he is still considered black and a slave by the law just as she is. After a theft at her “master’s” home, she switches the children because she fears her son will be sold down the river some day for something another slave has done. Her “master’s” wife is deceased and he has so little contact with his own son, that he doesn’t even realize what’s happened. The book then spends the next 100 plus pages talking about nothing that really has anything to do with the boys, until it finally comes back around to them in the end after the murder of the “false” boys Uncle. A strange man, dubbed Pudd’nhead by the community proves at trial that not only did the men he is representing not commit the crime, but he proves who actually did it using “fingerprint” evidence he had been collecting as a hobby for years. He also uncovers the swap of the two boys. The “false” heir is shown to be black and promptly sold down the river, and the boy who was the true heir but grew up thinking he was black, is now wealthy “white” member of society. However, he has no idea how to live in “white society”. He cannot read, write or speak like the “white” folks can and he doesn’t feel comfortable being outside the slave quarters. The book is a social commentary on the racial inequality that black slaves experienced by showing the attitude and demeanor of the two boys as they grow from infancy into men. It would’ve been a far more interesting story if the plot of the book was better. Twain is often difficult to read because of how he writes and this was made worse by the subject matter and the harsh language and behavior of the white characters towards black slaves.

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