The Tragedy Of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) is a novel by American writer Mark Twain. Its central intrigue revolves around two boys - one, born into slavery, with 1/32 black ancestry; the other, white, born to be the master of the house. The two boys, who look similar, are switched at infancy. Each grows into the other's social role.
The story was serialized in The Century Magazine (1893-4), before being published as a novel in 1894.
The setting is the fictional Missouri frontier town of Dawson's Landing on the banks of the Mississippi River in the first half of the 19th century. David Wilson, a young lawyer, moves to town and a clever remark of his is misunderstood, which causes locals to brand him a "pudd'nhead" (nitwit). His hobby of collecting fingerprints does not raise his standing in the eyes of the townsfolk, who consider him to be eccentric and do not frequent his law practice. Source: Wikipedia
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About the Author
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), best known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an author and humorist noted for the novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which has been called "The Great American Novel") and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, among many other books. Twain was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, which later provided the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and he spent time as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before finding fame as a writer.
Date of Birth:November 30, 1835
Date of Death:April 21, 1910
Place of Birth:Florida, Missouri
Place of Death:Redding, Connecticut
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rather belabored plot, but funny and well-written--Puddin'head's chapter openers are Twain at his best
I've never read this entire book before but have vague memories of references to it in discussions of other Twain novels or of general turn of the century literature. The one discussion I remember most vividly was a discussion of "courtroom drama" literature and how this particular book helped set up that format and in particular helped set up the presentation of evidence, especially the concept of using fingerprints to help solve crimes.Apart from the vague discussions about theme, I went into this novel fresh and really enjoyed it. I've always loved Twain's writing. Huckleberry Finn is one of my favorite all time books. In Pudd'nhead Wilson there is a lot of similar tone, setting, dialog and feel that made Huck Finn seem so real.This book is set in a Missouri town (Dawson's Landing) in the early 1800s and (although I'm not an expert on the 19th century South), it felt very authentic. Once again, Twain captures great elements of dialog and mannerism and does a great job of creating vivid environments and characters.The story is intriguing and feels at times like a Shakespearean "mistaken identity" play writ large. In the first few pages we're introduced to the townsfolk and shortly after introduction we watch a slave do the ol' switcher with two babies¿her 'black' baby (1/32 black, and thus very easily confused as 'white') and her master's white baby. We stick with the worried mother Roxy for a few months and then fast forward through the childhood and adolescent lives of the switched boys. The story picks up with them in their early 20s and really kicks into overdrive as two twins arrive from Italy, vices of the switched "black" boy come to light, and murder is committed in the town. The story ends with the title character, Pudd'nhead, working to solve the crime and act as defense lawyer for the accused.There are many themes present throughout this book. They are all presented in Twain's subtle, ironic, humorous tones. Moreso even than in some of his other books, Twain keeps the various "morales" very subtly in the background. He never seems to overtly or explicitly condemn anyone for any of their crimes, prejudices or vices. Instead, he presents a variety of situations ranging from tragic to humorous to ridiculous and lets the reader make his/her own judgment call.So even though Roxy commits a crime in switching her black baby for her master's white baby, Twain never condemns her. He never makes any commentary on what he presents as the absolutely ridiculous practice that even a drop of "black blood" can make a person "black" and thus a slave, no matter how "white" that person really is. He doesn't even really speak out against slavery (even in the subtle way he did in Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer) though he does make is somewhat evident that he's not a fan just through the way the various interactions take place.The closest he comes to condemnation is through Roxy's dialog later in the book as she talks with her son and reveals his true heritage to him. Through Roxy, he condemns "Tom's" behavior¿his despicable treatment of blacks, his many vices, his horrific act of selling "down the river" and more and more.Pudd'nhead acts almost as a counterpoint to Roxy's scathing comments. He seems sometimes to be the voice of reason or at least of calm, pensive thinking. Through his logical reasoning and his instinctive insight, we have a character who, although thought by his peers to be a dunce, is actually quite bright and has great wit and wisdom.As the full title (The TRAGEDY of Pudd'nhead Wilson) suggests, this book doesn't have a 'happy' ending per se. In the end, all the crimes are resolved and the innocent parties are restored to their freedom while the guilty parties are punished. However, the tragedy seems to be in how "matter of fact" the state of affairs is presented. After the trial is complete, the wrap up is somewhat disheartening. The white boy ('Chambers') who lived his life as