Passing for Privilege: Exposure of the true self in Chopin’s “The Awakening”, Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson”, and Chesnutt’s The Wife of His Youth
“This above all- to thine own self be true, /And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man” (Hamlet, 1.3.154-56). As Shakespeare so eloquently wrote, finding oneself is the key to truth. This idea is a prominent theme in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”, Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson”, and Charles Chesnutt’s The Wife of My Youth through different facets of identity and society’s reaction. Chopin’s “The Awakening”, Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson”, and Chesnutt’s The Wife of His Youth all address possibilities and limits of accepting aspects of one’s gender, race, and class identity in relation to 19th century United States society.
In Chopin’s “The Awakening”, the main identity struggle is between sexuality and independence against traditional female roles in 19th century Louisiana. Exposed to female gender expression in Creole culture, Edna Pontellier realizes that expression and identity are not limited by social rules. Edna has suppressed her true self, conforming to the identity expected of her since childhood. “Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions”(Chopin, 35). While spending the summer with the Creoles, Edna begins to see herself as an individual, instead of just a part of society or a possession of her husband.
Edna begins to defy her husband, even denying him sex, while pursuing her own interests. Her happiness grows with her independence. “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (Chopin, 33). However, as she continues to become more independent, she becomes more isolated from society. “Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed expression upon her face. She felt no interest in anything about her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic”(Chopin, 138). Edna saw the world as alien and distant. She no longer felt interested or like a part of it. Edna could not expect that she could be accepted by the society that she simultaneously rejected. Edna’s realization of her true self drove her to choose between being an unhappy insider or content but isolated. Edna made a decision outside of these two options. As she was swimming out to shore, Edna was reminded of her independence of learning to swim (Chopin, 302). She was also reminded of her comfortable family; “She thought of Léonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul”(Chopin, 302). Instead of choosing family or liberation, Edna chose death.
Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson” explores the boundaries of race, with the main conflict being the switched identities of Tom and Chambers, who are two different races. Tom is raised as White, and Chambers is raised as black, even though Tom is black and Chambers is white. When the boys’ true identities are discovered toward the end of the novel, both face the reality of their true selves. While in jail, Tom reacts badly to the realization: “Then [Tom] laid himself heavily down again, with a groan and the muttered words, “A n—[sic]! I am a n—[sic]! Oh, I wish I was dead!”(Twain, 76.) Tom has been black his whole life, he believes it is a fate worse than death. On the other hand, Chambers is liberated from slavery and has the privileges of being white, but still acts according to his former identity.
[Chambers] could neither read nor write, and his speech was the basest dialect of the negro quarter. His gait, his attitudes, his gestures, his bearing, his laugh—all were vulgar and uncouth; his manners were the manners of a slave. Money and fine clothes could not mend these defects or cover them up; they only made them the more glaring and the more pathetic (Twain, 202).
Despite being identified as white, he did not act white or fit into white society. These depictions of a racially white man who is ethnically black and a racially black man who is ethnically white may serve to contradict racial perceptions at the time. Chambers was capable of being intelligent, and Tom still made bad decisions despite his upbringing. Realizing their true selves did not change their personalities, but changed their social class.
In Chesnutt’s The Wife Of His Youth Mr. Ryder is forced to confront his humble beginnings. Mr. Ryder has a good life; he is financially well-off and part of the Blue Vein Society, which has black members of the lightest skin. He is an eligible bachelor, but has strangely resisted being married for 25 years. He believes the success of the black race lies in being completely intermixed with whites through breeding. “’I have no race prejudice,’ he would say, ‘but we people of mixed blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our fate lies between absorption by the white race and extinction in the black.” He intends to marry an educated white-skinned black woman. However, his former wife comes to look for him, and he is faced with the decision to acknowledge their marriage or marry Mrs. Dixon. Mr. Ryder had refrained from marrying for 25 years, perhaps due to the fact that he still thought of his previous marriage as valid and would felt marriage would not be ethical. In the end, he chooses to acknowledge his marriage to his wife, even quoting Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true”. Mr. Ryder asks his guests (society) if he should acknowledge his wife. Despite him belonging in the Blue Vein Society, he accepts his darker, older, uneducated wife, and the hidden, past part of his identity.
Chopin’s “The Awakening”, Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson”, and Chesnutt’s The Wife of His Youth all address possibilities and limits of accepting aspects of one’s gender, race, and class identity in relation to 19th century United States society. In each of the works, the character eventually came to terms with his or her true self, with each character being drastically and permanently changed in effect. In each work, the effect was negative to varying degrees and often included rejection from society; Edna chose death, Tom was jailed and Chambers did not fit into white society, and Mr. Ryder was confronted by his past life after his hard work to distance himself. Despite the negative consequences, characters were liberated by their choices. Edna became independent, Chambers was innocent, and Mr. Ryder resolved his past. By becoming their real selves, the truth finally set them free.
Fact and Faith within Detective Fiction
Humans possess the innate need to simplify and categorize the complexities of human identity. For the purposes of this paper, fingerprinting, DNA typing and gene mapping are modern day manifestations of the idea that identity is located on the skin and in the blood. These methods of determining one’s character, propensities, and abilities based on physical markers are predicated on the notion that identity can be read in the body. While the social implications of locating racial identity in the body are apparent if not obvious, the social implications of centering identity in the body are not as evident when it comes to the topic of sexual orientation.
The novel Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and outside sources show that locating identity in the body transforms society into a hierarchy of dominant groups and oppressed groups. Thus, by locating identity in the body and using the evidence of scientific data to confirm this identity, the dominant groups within society maintain their control. This paper will examine the social construction of race and the use of science in locating identity in the body during the antebellum South through the lens of dominant and oppressive groups in Pudd’nhead Wilson. In comparison, it will also examine the social implications of sexuality and the use of science in locating this identity in the body during the 20th century. It will be shown that this statement is true of both societies in which race was the central issue and modern societies that view gay marriage as the civil rights fight of the decade.
Numerous scholars have debated Twain’s satire of the economic and legal institution of slavery and whether Twain upholds the notion that identity is located in the body (Gillman and Robinson 137). Unfortunately, the critique barely passes the satirical. Scholars fail to critique the idea that identity is located in the body and the role that science plays in upholding this idea.
For example, Roxy’s interaction with ‘Tom’ highlights society’s adherence that identity is situated in the body. Roxy, the mother of ‘Tom,’ is only one-sixteenth black, making her son only one out of thirty-two parts black. When Roxy is alerted to her son’s cowardly refusal to duel Luigi Capello, she correlates this cowardly part of his identity to his black lineage, commenting “dat po’ little one part is yo’ soul” and that it is enough to “paint his soul” (Twain 88-89). The behavior of ‘Tom’ is confined to his black race and any debate of his behavior being a result of his upbringing is omitted. This is a clear example of how identity was located in the body during the antebellum South.
Furthermore, this example indicates that scientific knowledge and methods maintained the stratification of society. The categorization of individuals during the antebellum South is based on the identity in the body, and not only in the skin. The characters in the novel are aware of the fact that skin can betray one’s identity. To combat this limitation of locating identity in the skin, knowledge of genetics is utilized. In a society based on identity in the skin, individuals such as Roxy and ‘Tom’ would go undetected. Not only is identity in the body, but racial identity, as portrayed in Pudd’nhead Wilson, is found in the blood. Skin color only helps to maintain the separation of the races. But the separation of people based on genetics, or their racial proportions, ensures that the inferior races—and the inferior traits that they carry—do not penetrate into the higher realms of society. The scientific knowledge of genetics empowers the dominant groups and oppresses the marginalized groups.
Secondly, the closing scenes of Pudd’nhead Wilson, when ‘Tom’ is found to be the murderer through Wilson’s collection of fingerprints, illustrate the power of science in affirming the stratification of a society based on identity in the body. As noted previously with Roxy, it is not only the actions in the novel that reveal adherence to the notion that identity, and subsequently character, are properties of the body, but the words of the characters also reveal this truth. Notably, as Wilson makes his statement to the court, he presents the general gist of fingerprints. He states that they are “physical marks which do not change their character” (Twain 136). The use of the word character is striking and immediately stands out in the surrounding debates. This word seems to suggest that one’s character—which is based on identity in the body, on their race—can be read and sorted through the use of a scientific method: fingerprinting. When taken by itself, this singular word does not suggest that dominant groups use the location of identity in the body and science to retain their position in society. But, the comments do not stop there. Pembroke Howard’s comments and the crucial ending of the story bolster the argument.
Furthermore, Pembroke Howard, in the presentation of his case against Luigi and Angelo Capello, says that the crime was committed by the “blackest of heart and the cowardliest of hands” (Twain 126). Howard’s statement relates to Roxy’s comments about ‘Tom’ earlier in the novel. It defends the notion that identity was located in the body during the antebellum South, and thus dominant groups used this idea to separate and categorize the races, both on the presence of darker skin and the presence of a notion of genetically inherited racial characteristics. “The blackest of hearts” suggests that race does not stop at the color of the skin. The skin can deceive and is not an affect method of characterization, classification, or separation as is the case with ‘Tom’. Genetic knowledge is necessary to ensure separation. Secondly, Pembroke Howard states that the hands that committed the crime are the “cowardliest of hands.” This description grounds the notion of personality and character in a part of the body, the hands, explicitly confirming the notion that identity is located in the body. Lastly, the science of fingerprinting is used to uncover and unveil the cowardly hands that belong to ‘Tom,’ the slave that went undetected in white society. Here, science is used to classify people and to restore order in society, maintaining the dominance that whites had over society during the antebellum South. This ordering of society and the dominance over society is exemplified at the end of the novel when ‘Tom’ is sold down the river despite his mother’s best attempt to pass him off as white, and ‘Chambers’ is unsuccessfully integrated into society due to his Black mannerisms (Twain 144).
In essence, the idea the identity is located in the body and in the blood was a large portion of ideology during the antebellum South. Multiple characters in Pudd’nhead Wilson such as Roxy, Wilson, and Pembroke Howard verbalize that this ideology led to the classification of people into a dominant group and a submissive group. Hence, the dominant groups used the knowledge of genetics and the science of fingerprinting to maintain control of society and ensure separation.
As stated, the consequences of connecting identity in the body with racial characteristics and behavior are apparent. However, the implications of connecting identity in the body with human sexuality—the current civil rights issue of the day—are not as obvious. By locating identity in the body, the dominant groups of society once again used science to corroborate the idea that one’s biology, and therefore, key aspects of one’s character can be read, resulting in the separation of society into dominant and marginalized groups.
Since the Stonewall Riots of the 1960s and even prior, the argument over homosexuality has since been an argument of nature versus nurture. Whereas black Africans and black Americans in the antebellum South were viewed as chattel, deviant sexualities were viewed as abnormalities since these sexualities cut across racial lines. Similar to the dominant groups during the antebellum South, the dominant heteronormative culture of the mid-20th century also used science to justify the classification of individuals and separation of homosexuals from mainstream society. For instance, the term “sexual deviant”—at that point in time referring to individuals with homosexual tendencies—was a diagnosable disorder contained within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973 (Haggerty 680-681). Homosexuality was viewed and confirmed by scientific institutions as the product of a development arrest, an arrest that could be treated and cured. Thus, the mechanisms and methods by which the white dominant society justified the oppression of blacks are similar to the way in which gay and lesbians were oppressed by dominant heteronormative society. Homosexuals were separated from society and viewed as abnormalities of normal heterosexual behavior. The following statement published in the Gay Histories and Culture Encyclopedia illustrates best the social implications of locating identity in the body:
“the pervert has been religiously condemned, legally punished, and medically diagnosed, all of which serve as mechanisms for social control and regulation of individual behavior. Thus, through labeling deviance…nonconforming individual behaviors and beliefs can be restricted, discouraged, eliminated, and punished” (Haggerty 680).
Given the above points, society used science to justify locating identity in the body to portray homosexuality as a deviance of heterosexuality and to oppress the homosexual population. Furthermore, since Dean Hamer’s paper “A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation” was published in the 1993 journal Science, scientists have been waiting for the discovery of the “gay gene,” the supposed gene that determines one’s sexuality. In brief, his article deemed that homosexuality was not a choice, that it was just as biologically determined as eye or hair color (Hamer 1993). However, the gay community, all too aware of society’s constant and still occurring assault on the gay community, realized the far-reaching implications of the discovery of such a gene and the classification of individuals into sexual categories based on DNA typing and gene mapping. Others have been concerned that the discovery of a gay gene would be used as a tool of oppression by “a repressive, eugenically inclined majority” (Assault on Gay America). Altogether, society during the mid-20th century used science—although unverified and unproven—in the form of genetics and psychological diagnoses and treatments to maintain their hegemonic control on society, thus justifying the oppression of the gay community.In conclusion, the notion that identity is located in the body is used to separate groups while the dominant groups in society are able to maintain control of the hierarchy. In the antebellum South, the dominant group in society, as exemplified through the novel
In conclusion, the notion that identity is located in the body is used to separate groups while the dominant groups in society are able to maintain control of the hierarchy. In the antebellum South, the dominant group in society, as exemplified through the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, used the concepts of science to control society and to maintain their status. Similarly, the anti-gay sentiment of the mid-20th century was also fueled by the notion that science could differentiate heterosexuals and homosexuals using DNA typing and gene mapping. Thus, the social implications of both of these similar phenomena—one an example based on the archaic social institution of slavery and the other based on the modern day discussion of sexuality—explicate how locating identity in the body serves to simplify human nature and separate society into dominant groups and marginalized groups based on biological differences. The social implications of locating identity in the body reveal that not all human nature can be reduced to a science, thus other social and cultural factors come into play. Although it is human nature to simplify and classify, to separate-seeming opposites, this innate compulsion ultimately results in the loss of dignity, as humans are transformed from complex subjects into objects that can be read with the right scientific equipment.
Assault on Gay America. 2014. ‘The “Gay Gene” Debate’. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/genetics/.
Gillman, Susan Kay, and Forrest G. Robinson. 1990. Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson: Race, Conflict and Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Haggerty, George. 1999. ‘Perversion’.
Haggerty, George. 1999. ‘Perversion’. Encyclopedia of Gay Histories and Cultures. New York: Routledge. Hamer, Dean. 1993. ‘A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation’.
Hamer, Dean. 1993. ‘A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation’. Science 261 (5119). http://db6fj4sr6x.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=A+linkage+between+DNA+markers+on+the+X+chromosome+and+male+s&rft.jtitle=Science&rft.date=1993-07-16&rft.pub=The+American+Association+for+the+Advancement+of+Science&rft.issn=0036-8075&rft.eissn=1095-9203&rft.volume=261&rft.issue=5119&rft.spage=321&rft.externalDocID=5052423¶mdict=en-US.
Twain, Mark, and R. D Gooder. 1992. Pudd’nhead Wilson And Other Tales. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press.
The Ruse of Race: Problematizing Binaries
Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson and Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars both problematize the concept of race by demonstrating to the reader that subscriptions to stereotypes warranted by skin color are ambiguous and consequently not at all as concrete, nor as correct, as comfortably believed. Both authors dramatize the destruction of the socially constructed binary system of black and white by introducing to the reader the ambiguously raced character: the mulatto. While Chesnutt gives us Rena and John, Twain gives us Roxy and “Tom.” Both authors, through their depictions of these characters, illustrate the constructed and not at all biological foundation from which racism sprouts; thus, deconstructing the cultural binaries of what black and white presumably mean. In the antebellum South, a person’s perceived identity predicated first and foremost, neither from merit nor achievement but rather, from lineage—from race. The racial composition of an individual’s blood was believed to determine their social worth and, consequently, their overall value. This is evidenced through Twain’s Roxy and Chambers. Both appear white and have very little black blood, but are treated like sub-humans and are slaves. “For all intents and purposes Roxy was a white as anybody, but the one sixteenth of her which was black outvoted the other fifteen parts, and made her a Negro. She was a slave and salable as such. Her child was thirty-one parts white, and he, too, was a slave, and by a fiction of law and custom a Negro.” Twain lays down the foundation of his criticism for, he, here, illustrates the illogical labeling of race. He shows how artificial and how much of a ruse the idea of racial superiority really is. And later, through Roxy’s act of deception, demonstrates how easily interchangeable both races are—Chambers becomes Tom, and Tom becomes Chambers. This single act elegantly dramatizes the idea that racial difference is just a societal fabrication that attempts to categorize people by making distinctions that have no palpable, or real, warrant behind them. And yet, here a potential problem emerges. The idea of interchangeability and subsequent equality is insidiously undermined by the “black” Tom’s, “natural viciousness.” “Tom” is abusive, dishonest, and cowardly, implying that his character is the result of some deeply entrenched “blackness.” And it is not just whites that subscribe to this ideology, Roxy does it too. She blames “Tom’s” disagreeable character on his biology. But it is important to remember that she is not a reliable commentator of the issues of race, rather, she too is has been infected with the racist paradigm. She has been conditioned, and thus has internalized the negative stereotypes attributed to blacks. She genuinely believes whites can do no wrong. The narrator argues otherwise, for even though Roxy effectually robbed the real Tom of his freedom he remains loyal to her. And while it is argued that this is because of the benevolence inherent in his “whiteness” an alternative, and more accurate assertion, would be that his kindness is the result of a widely divergent upbringing. It’s because “Tom” was spoiled as a child that he is the way he is—the inverse can be said for “Chambers.” Furthermore, the conclusion of the novel speaks to the notion of individuality. Dramatized through the use of fingerprints, Twain reveals to the reader that just like their owners all fingerprints are different. Indicating, once more, that even biology can’t be grouped into categories—everyone is unique. While Twain explores the construction of race and the effect of environment on the individual by exchanging two nearly identical infants, one “white” and the other “black,” Chesnutt, in The House Behind the Cedars, similarly, moves Rena, a young “black” woman (physically indistinguishable from a white woman) from a hometown in which she is inextricably perceived as “black” and places her in an environment in which her Anglo features cause others to perceive her as white. This illustrates the same point; race is a socially constructed and unfairly arbitrary application of classification, it’s not real. Once Rena leaves Patesville she is free to no longer acquiesce to a self perception that predicates off of racial stereotypes. She becomes undoubtedly white in the eyes around her. But, upon her return to Patesville the reader sees her turn once more into, “a cullud ‘oman.” These constant reminders of racial interchangeability remind the reader of the powerful potency environment, not genetics, have on race and perceptions of race. Furthermore, after deciding to fully embrace her black identity the reader sees that often Rena has to explain to people around her that the reason she is so deeply entrenched within—and so deeply concerned about—the black community is because she is in fact a part of it. When traveling outside of Patesville Rena’s ethnic origins must be explained to people who see her with black people but assume, from her appearance, she is white. This constant (re)clarification problematizes the stereotypical notions of race and reinforce Chesnutt’s message of the racial-ruse. Rena isn’t “black,” Rena isn’t “white.” Rena is an individual. Both Pudd’n head Wilson, and The House Behind the Cedars illustrate the problematization of the ideology behind the “one drop rule.” The rule which ordains that one drop of black blood undoubtedly, permanently, and irrevocably categorizes the individual as black. Chesnutt directly challenges this rule by asking readers to reevaluate the delimiters of racial categories while Twain employs it in a satirical fashion to prompt readers to think of character as individually determined rather than racially determined. In his portrayal of Rena Walden, Chesnutt illustrates the way in which environment alone determines racial identity. Literally once she changes environment, she moves from “black” to “white.” In his portrayal of “Tom,” Twain illustrates a similar point—a person’s biology doesn’t yield one of two outcomes (i.e. the black, or the white); rather, it holds the potential for much more. Like each individual fingerprint—absolutely everyone is different, absolutely everyone is shaped by their environment. Skin color, should be and, is irrelevant. Goodbye binaries! BibliographyTwain, Mark. Pudd’nhead Wilson. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1999. Chesnutt, Charles W. The House Behind the Cedars. New York: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1900. Reprint, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000.
The Material Dialectic: A Marxist Analysis of Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson
America has undeniably come a long way from its dark adolescence prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in becoming a global icon of ethnic diversity. No longer are African Americans relegated to indentured servitude or the “black” water fountain. Indeed the establishment of civil rights has brought a better way of life for not only Americans of different color, but also women and people of different religious beliefs. American history does not glamorize our past misdeeds with slavery, and our literature from the time lives on to tell the tales of those on the oppressed side of that nineteenth century dichotomy. A good example of such literature would be Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, a novel set in antebellum America on the banks of the Mississippi. In the piece Twain portrays the human rift created by color and miscegenation through the opposing notions of wealthy landowners and their slaves. On the surface, the text certainly seems to reinforce the theme of human value based on skin color. However reading Pudd’nhead Wilson from a Marxist perspective raises questions of Twain’s motives. From this avenue of analysis, the text becomes more difficult to dismiss as simply a caricature of racial conflict, but instead supports a disparity of socio-economic proportion. From a Marxist perspective, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson was not a rendering of racial selectivity, but rather a depiction of the dark side of American commodification.Twain introduces the ideology of material wealth and its social importance early in the text. In the description of what makes a perfect home Twain writes: “A home without a cat – and a well fed, well petted, and properly revered cat – may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?” (Twain 3). Twain makes a statement about the sign value of the homes in Dawson’s Landing, alluding to the fact that a household cannot be complete without the possession of a pet. This passage initiates the course of the text by laying down the unspoken social code for Dawson’s Landing; a code that institutes a hierarchical value system according to conspicuous consumption. The material circumstances circumscribing Dawson’s Creek depict a socio-economic machine built upon the foundation of slavery; however, as George Spangler writes in his essay “A Parable of Property”, a major key in interpreting Twain’s piece lies in the “obsession with property as a vitiating and reductive influence on human beings” (Spangler 29). Such a statement makes sense, especially when considering the base nature of slavery itself. The idea of owning a group of people to perform the arduous duties of maintaining a farm or plantation indicates a sense of property. For instance, near the end of the piece, the character Roxy actually walks around with her own bill of sale in her pocket as a personal assertion that she was indeed no one’s property other than her own. A re-occurring statement throughout the text; one that was issued as threats by multiple characters and hung over Roxy and the other slaves warn of being “sold down the river”. The idea that a person could have an exchange value and that bad behavior on the part of the slaves could very well warrant relocation to an undesirable master reinforces the notion of human life as a commodity. And although the dynamics of the system of slavery in the setting of the novel prove to be a flagrant example of the theme of “ownership”, the behavior of the characters within the text often provide glaring examples of the slave-master relationship in people as well as property.One such character in Pudd’nhead Wilson that serves to typify the rampant commodification throughout the text is that of the “false” Tom. From the time Roxy switched the infants, the new Tom learned to crave material objects. As Twain writes of the false Tom, “He would call for anything and everything he saw, simply saying ‘Awnt it!’ (want it), which was a command” (Twain 19). And as Tom grew up, his materialism got him into severe gambling debts. Several passages in the book explain his subsequent behavior as fulfilling a need to preserve his status as the sole heir to the Driscoll fortune. For instance upon finding out his true identity as a usurper, Tom submits to Roxy’s demands and relinquishes half of his monthly allowance to her to keep the secret. This morally bankrupt Tom, who as Spangler notes has become a slave to his property, or rather the lie that propagates his link to material wealth, turns to petty thievery in an effort to pay off his debts. (Spangler 35). His actions begin a sequence of events that ironically lead to Tom himself ending up as property. Roxy selflessly gives herself up her freedom to keep Tom from being disinherited; an opportunity that Tom takes advantage of even though his mother is going to be “sold down the river”. This action illustrates Tom’s value system of property and wealth over human well being. The exchange value of his mother enables Tom to pay off the gambling debts and return to the comfort of his lie. However, after Tom’s secret is revealed in court, the irony in the material consciousness in the town is illuminated in the following passage:“Everybody granted that if ‘Tom’ were white and free it would be unquestionably right to punish him – it would be no loss to anybody; but to shut up a valuable slave for life – that was quite another matter…As soon as the Governor understood the case, he pardoned Tom at once, and the creditors sold him down the river” (Twain 121).The entire path of Tom’s character supports the theory that Twain’s motives for Pudd’nhead Wilson were not to show the plight of the slaves, but rather to illustrate the notion of being a slave to one’s property. Other characters in the text that substantiate this claim are those of the twins and their benefactors, Aunt Patsy and Rowena. According to Henry Chapin’s article “Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson”, the slave-master relationship in the text is purposely juxtaposed when the town listens to the twins and their “masterful” piano playing (Chapin 61). The narrator of the text calls their music “prodigious slam-banging”, however those in attendance “were astonished and enchanted with the magnificence of their performance … They realized that for once in their lives they were hearing masters” (Twain 33). This passage insinuates that the town itself was ready to accept these foreign nobles as “masters”, and in effect, redefining the particulars of the slave-master relationship. In addition, the twins themselves are viewed as property by their benefactors. In fact Rowena is so excited in their foreign guests that she exclaims “And to think, they are our – all ours!” (Twain 32). Rowena is so satisfied with the guests that “she knew now for the first time the real meaning of that great word Glory, and perceived the stupendous value of it …”(33). These lines illustrate the social value carried by the “possession” of these two self-purported noblemen, furthering the theme of conspicuous consumption and commodification throughout the text. Yet another example in the piece of the human slavery to wealth connection is spelled out by the twins early in the novel. On describing the death of their parents and the subsequent financial devastation their deaths brought, the twins explain that they “were seized for the debts occasioned by their illness and their funerals … It took us two years to get out of that slavery” (31). This, according to Spangler, is the exact type of “slavery that Twain is talking about in Pudd’nhead Wilson” (Spangler 36-37). Throughout Pudd’nhead Wilson, the idea of being a slave to material possessions and the debt that these objects create repeats. Twain seems to be telling the reader that these characters are more concerned with the obsession over property than actual human value. Such a statement is blatantly obvious in regard to Tom; however, each of the characters in the book in some way displays a pervasive proclivity toward the material – toward the exclusion of all other aspects of the human condition. Even Roxy – devoid of nearly all material wealth – needed to satisfy her reflection before attempting suicide. Indeed, the behavior of the characters explains Twain’s motives in a much more complex, coherent light from a Marxist perspective. In many ways it seems as if there was intentional solace in the silent voices of the slaves in the text. For although miserable and plighted, they do not succumb to the obsession with material wealth and social elitism. They have what Twain might be saying is the greatest commodity of all. They have the lavish freedom of being spared the burden of material accumulation.Works Cited Chapin, Henry B. “Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson”. Explicator, 21, 8 (1963): 61. Periodicals Index Online. UMUC’s Information and Library Services.6 Jun. 2006. http://pao.chadwyck.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu//articles/displayItemFromId.do?uid=1753Spangler, George M. “A Parable of Property”. American Literature, 42, 1 (1970) 28-37. JSTOR. UMUC’s Information and Library Services. 6 Jun. 2006 http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-9831CO%3B2-PTwain, Mark. Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins. New York: Norton, 2005.
Personal Development: Nature vs. Nurture in Pudd’nhead Wilson
It is often debated whether one’s character is instilled at birth, or through the environment in which one is raised. Mark Twain’s novel Pudd’nhead Wilson argues the latter through describing the development of two boys of the same age, Chambers and Tom. A slave woman by the name of Roxy raises both boys, but while she is able to discipline Chambers, her own son, she is forbidden to punish her master’s son, Tom. Thus, as the boys develop into adults throughout the course of the story, it becomes apparent that while race and natural factors may slightly impact one’s development, it is primarily one’s upbringing and environment that determines the quality of one’s adult character. When the boys are infants, Roxy switches them so that her son Chambers grows up as Tom, and Tom as Chambers. The boys both have very light skin and are the same age, so nobody notices the switch, and the true Chambers easily passes as a white Tom. The false Tom is an obnoxious child right from the moment they are switched. He cries constantly, scratching and hitting anyone that comes within his reach. However, rather than reprimand him, Percy Driscoll, Roxy’s owner and the real Tom’s father, forces Roxy to ignore Tom’s outbursts and to indulge his every whim. “He was indulged in all his caprices, howsoever troublesome and exasperating they might be” (Twain 76). In addition to having a doting mother in Roxy, Tom has a personal bodyguard in Chambers. Thus, although Tom is widely disliked among his peers, he is not often heckled because he has the almost constant protection of Chambers. Thus, Tom becomes an adult believing he is capable of getting away with any infraction, and this belief ends up being his downfall. Needing money to pay off gambling debts, Tom accidentally murders his father as he is caught stealing from him. However, as a pair of Italian twins whom Tom despises is brought to trial for the murder instead of him, Tom grows complacent as he believes that there is no way he can possibly be caught. Tom even goes so far as to mock Pudd’nhead Wilson, the defense attorney for the twins. As Pudd’nhead attempts to throw some light upon the case using his collection of fingerprints, Tom exclaims to him “Hello, we’ve gone back to the amusements of our days of neglect and obscurity for consolation, have we” (Twain 207)? It is at this point that Tom leaves a fingerprint upon one of Pudd’nhead’s glass strips, leading Pudd’nhead to the revelation that it is Tom’s print upon the handle of the knife used in the murder. This complacent behavior stems directly from Roxy’s permissive parenting during Tom’s upbringing. As Tom has never been punished for a wrongdoing in his life, the idea that he could be caught for the murder does not seem feasible to him, and he spends his time admiring the ingenuity with which he has escaped suspicion in the case. Conditioned by his youth to hide and let others take the fall for his wrongdoings, Tom is shocked when the story he is hiding behind caves in and he is held accountable for his actions for the first time. Chambers’ childhood is starkly different from Tom’s, as he is forced to tolerate Tom’s constant abuse. While Tom is conditioned to believe that he is superior to everyone else, Chambers is beaten into a docile submissiveness. When Tom hits him, rather than fight back, Chambers must meekly bear the hitting, scratching, and cuffing or face punishment from Percy Driscoll, his master: “He (Percy) told Chambers that under no provocation whatever was he privileged to lift his hand against his little master. Chambers overstepped the line three times, and got three such convincing canings from the man who was his father and didn’t know it that he took Tom’s cruelties in all humility after that…” (Twain 78). If he were allowed to fight back, Chambers would likely grow into an adult as prone to violence as Tom. However, he learns quickly that violence for any reason other than protection of Tom leads to a beating, so he instead becomes a submissive, docile young man. Roxy’s opposite stance in parenting each boy leads to opposite temperaments in the two as men, thus suggesting environment largely determines the person one becomes. Roxy blames Tom’s misbehavior upon his blackness, because as her son, he is thirty-one parts white and one part Negro. However, Roxy is one sixteenth Negro and although she does several dishonest things throughout the course of the novel, she is driven to do them by necessity, as she is an inherently decent person. When freed by Percy Driscoll, Roxy attempts to earn an honest living working as a chambermaid aboard a steamboat. After eight years she is forced to retire due to rheumatism in her arms, but she retires having earned a reasonable fortune. She wishes to live honestly and independently, not having to answer to any boss or master, or rely upon anyone for anything. “She would be independent of the human race thenceforth for evermore if hard work and economy could accomplish it” (Twain 100). It is not until her bank crashes and she loses this fortune that she is forced to ask Tom for assistance, which she eventually blackmails him into giving her. While it is often argued that Roxy’s blackmailing Tom shows a similarity between her and her son, as both are extremely manipulative, there is a major difference. Roxy manipulates others because she has nothing and her son, a genuinely bad person, refuses to assist her. Tom, on the other hand, has everything given to him but manipulates and steals from others anyways. Roxy is inherently a decent person, and it is this decency, which proves that Tom’s adult behavior must be the product of his upbringing rather than his mother’s genes, or his “blackness.” Pudd’nhead Wilson depicts nurture as being the primary developmental force in shaping one’s identity, morals, and actions. Although one’s genes play a role as well, the novel argues that it is primarily the stark contrast between the parenting techniques used upon Tom and Chambers that leads to their extreme dissimilarity as adults. While permissive parenting of Tom molds him into a manipulative adult who is used to having others fix his problems for him, the authoritarian approach used upon Chambers turns him into a docile and obedient adult. Although Roxy claims that it is the blackness from her genes that leads Tom to misbehave, her own decency of character as a black woman shows that this is not the case. Thus, the conclusion gathered from Twain’s novel is that it is nurture, or the environment which one is placed into during development, rather than one’s genes or more importantly one’s race, that plays the lead role in defining one’s traits as an adult.