2008: 105. Pudd’nhead Wilson

“The scene of this chronicle is the town of Dawson’s Landing, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi, half a days’s journey, per steamboat, below St. Louis”

Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain

Well, I haven’t been blogging much,* but I have been reading, so I have once again fallen behind (more than a month now, sigh).  I grabbed Pudd’nhead Wilson as my commuting book when I got to the T’s because I had recently watched Ken Burns’s Mark Twain documentary, which made it seem like this was the last thing of any value that Twain ever wrote (off topic, it made the last ten or so years of Twain’s life seem unbearably sad and grim, so one can understand if he didn’t have another Huckleberry Finn in him**).  Pudd’nhead Wilson*** is a strange little story.  Part detective tale (the unique nature of fingerprints is crucial to the plot), the rest is about race in America.  The plot is pretty shocking for the times (i.e. post Civil War America) - it concerns a slave woman, Roxanne, who decides to switch her child with the child of the household, a feat she is able to do because both children look white (her own child is only about an eighth black anyways).  Starting right off with an inherent criticism of the racial system (what is black, anyway), Twain continues, following the two men, one who is beaten down to the lowliest of conditions by the other, who becomes the spoiled scion of the family.  The underlying message is an obvious critique of the system of slavery and of racism in general that would define two men who are indistinguishable so differently based on so little.  The book is also interesting in that it manages to make all the characters human - Twain is able to criticize racism while still making all his characters, black and white less than perfect.  

The downside is that the writing is a bit clunky, and tends toward the melodrama of the times - the ideas are better than the prose (except for the aphorisms that start each chapter, which are just pure Twain), but the novel (or really novella, as it’s pretty short) are interesting enough to overcome the flaws.  It reminded me in someways of a more sophisticated (and cynical) Uncle Tom’s Cabin - trapped in the tropes of melodrama like that book is, but with a more complex world view on race in America.  An interesting read.


*because my lovely friends and family have recently spoiled me rotten and two beautiful baby showers, and I have been dedicating my evenings to writing the thank you notes they richly deserve, rather than blathering on about what I’m reading.


**I TOTALLY want to re-read Huck Finn, too, but it turns out that I somehow do not own a copy.  What the heck?? 


***And can I just say what an annoying title that is to type out, with the strange apostrophe just sticking in the middle? And could I be anymore discursive with the footnotes?

Date/Place Completed:  7/8/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017