The Objectivity of Race in Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the novel, Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark twain is dealing with the “objectivity of race”, whether race is a biological category or not, it presents itself in the novel. Twain censures both the institution of slavery as the emerging Jim Crow law. He argues whether slavery and the treatment of African American as well as their subsequent behavior is due to genetic or social influence in other words, nature versus nurture and he uses the character Tome and Chamber to validate this point. Nature can be described in terms of genetic inheritance and makeup and biological background. Nurture can be described in terms of experience and learning. Nature versus nurture comes down to the skills and personality trains that one has inherited versus what a person has learned throughout their social interactions and experiences.

In the 1890s the scars of slavery were still fresh in the minds of American society. One should realize that it was only in 1865 that the blacks were freed from indentured servitude. Just because slavery was abolished didn’t mean that the issues of racism were solved. Blacks or anyone with some sort of African genetics were still treated as second class citizens where they didn’t have the same rights as whites. This notion of white superiority wasn’t just isolated to the south even though areas outside the former confederate states never had the Jim crow laws of 1890 implemented, there were other ways that racism was still promulgated via banking, employment and living matters. Twain shows in his book Pudd’n Head Wilson in actuality that much really hasn’t changed since the time of slavery and to point of the idiocy of American society on the basis of genetics. One of a few examples of this viewpoint from the book can be given just from speaking about Roxy and her child.

“From Roxy’s manner of speech, a stranger would have expected her to be black, but she was not. Only one- sixteenth of her was black, and that sixteenth did not show.”(Pg.63,33). Roxy is only 1/16th black & 15/16th white but yet just from having that minute fraction of being black she is considered to be full black and thus a slave. The speaker referred to Roxy as being “…white as anybody” (p.g 64,15 ) but even though the way Roxy looks made her appearance look white, she was still classified to be black due to that one-sixteenth of herself. “Mrs. Percy Driscoll died within the week. Roxy remained in charge of the children. She had her own way, for Mr. Driscoll soon absorbed himself in his speculations and left her to her own devices.”(p.g 58,23) the story of how once her master’s wife died she had to take care for her master’s baby and her own. This is were she sees an opportunity to exploit the society she lives in. “She began to move around like one in a dream.” She undressed Thomas ‘a Becket, stripping him of everything, and putting the tow-linen shirt on him. She put his coral necklace on her own child’s neck. Then she placed the children side by side and after earnest inspection she muttered: “Now who would b’lieve clo’es could do de like o’ dat? Dog my cats if it ain’t all I kin do to tell t’ other fum which, let alone his pappy.” (Pg 71,25) Her baby and her owner’s baby look almost completely identical just one baby is fully white and the other which is her child has a hint of black. She switches babies whose only difference in actuality was their clothes. Her child had on worn clothes while her master’s child wore a nice gown with a necklace. She changed their clothes and in an instant the white child was now a slave and her child with the hint of black was now considered a human being with rights. “Roxy had an easy, independent carriage—when she was among her own caste—and a high and ‘sassy’ way, withal; but of course she was meek and humble enough where white people were”(p.g 64,12) She is looking at her self from the eyeing of white man perspective. Roxy was comfortable around people from her own racial status, however… Roxy changed her characteristic around white people. It was not her genetics that made her act different.

“How do you tell them apart, Roxy, when they haven’t any clothes on?” Roxy laughed a laugh proportioned to her size, and said: “Oh, I kin tell ’em ’part, Misto Wilson, but I bet Marse Percy couldn’t, not to save his life.(p.g 65,15). Pudd’nhead Wilson cannot tell the different between the two babies if it wasn’t of the cloth they are wearing to be able to differentiate them apart. Roxy was the only one able to do so because she has spend time around the baby’s which made her familiar with there characteristics appearance “It make me sick! It’s de nigger in you, dat’s what it is. Thirty-one parts o’ you is white, en on’y one part nigger, en dat po’ little one part is yo’ soul.”(p.g157,16) Roxy is speaking to Tom about his one thirds of his soul that is black and that she is disgusted in relations of her blaming the black in him to ruin him. “Tom had long ago taught Roxy ‘her place.’ It had been many a day now since she had ventured a caress or a fondling epithet in his quarter. Such things, from a ‘nigger,’ were repulsive to him, and she had been warned to keep her distance and remember who she was.”(p.g81,4).Even thought Roxy is Tom biological mother how ever because there racial status.

Tom is able warns Roxy to stay in her place and keep her distance. His biological mother. Wasn’t able to do anything since she is a slave. “He began to think. Sufficiently bitter thinkings they were. They wandered along something after this fashion: ‘Why were niggers and whites made? What crime did the uncreated first nigger commit that the curse of birth was decreed for him? And why is this awful difference made between white and black?. How hard the nigger’s fate seems, this morning!—yet until last night such a thought never entered my head.’ (p.g117,8).Once Tom finds out his real identity from Roxy. Even though he lived a charm white man life since he was a baby. He starts to think hard about origins of racial bias just by knowing his real social position had a huge effect on his thought and perspective.

“Whatever has come o’ yo’ Essex blood? Dat’s what I can’t understan’. En it ain’t on’y jist Essex blood dat’s in you, not by a long sight—’deed it ain’t! My great-great-great-gran’father en yo’ great-great-great-great-gran’father was Ole Cap’n John Smith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny ever turned out, en his great-great-gran’mother or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun queen, en her husbun’ was a nigger king outen Africa—en yit here you is, a slinkin’ outen a duel en disgracin’ our whole line like a ornery low-down hound! Yes, it’s de nigger in you!”“Ain’t nigger enough in him to show in his finger-nails, en dat takes mighty little—yit dey’s enough to paint his soul.” (pg.157-158,30)

By switching the pure white baby for the baby with the drop of” nigger blood”, Roxy believes she has saved her baby future to the better how ever upon learning that tom has gambling debt and other vices, she blames his action on his “ nigger blood” instead of the possibility that he may have bee spoiled or other outside influences. “The real heir suddenly found himself rich and free, but in a most embarrassing situation. He could neither read nor write, and 302his 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. The poor fellow could not endure the terrors of the white man’s parlor, and felt at home and at peace nowhere but in the kitchen. The family pew was a misery to him, yet he could nevermore enter into the solacing refuge of the “nigger gallery”—that was closed to him for good and all. But we cannot follow his curious fate further—that would be a long story.”(p.g225,4)

Unfortunately Chamber how ever was innocent in every way, when he found out his true lineage, he was never able to fit anywhere, he was not allowed to go back with other slaves where he was comfortable and also was too uneducated to be comfortable with the white where he should have been all along. He was really kind of stuck and miserable and lonely.

‘Pembroke Howard, lawyer and bachelor, aged about forty, was another old Virginian grandee with prove descent from the First Families.'(p.g57,33).Mark Twain is trying to expose how wrong this system during the era of 1930 was to use people’s family history to see if they fit to be equal to a white man. Reading the novel I thought that if you need a post it note to prove that someone is black and not by just looking at him.

What the novel doing is you have two characters they both look white but one of them lives an awful life and the other one gets to live a charm life. The novel Meditation on what is race?, Because race is not a visible thing You can not tell by looking at Tom or Chamber whom are black but somebody has to be the black one and bear color as burden. It is not about genetics because during the era it has not existed yet. What is race made out of? At end of book Tome fingerprints what acutely differentiate Tome and Chamber. We need to always find a something object to pin race to because it is not real.

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