This section is the heart of both the farce and the tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. The action is fast-paced, often absurd, and accompanied by convoluted plot twists. Yet it is always intimately tied to the central problem of the story: Roxy’s failure to “save” her son, whose racial heritage seems to damn him inescapably. Roxy herself seems to agree with racist sentiments when she tells “Tom” that his black blood is to blame for his behavior. She also takes the opportunity to make claims for her own heritage, telling her son that she is descended from Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, and is thereby of as high quality Virginia stock as the judge or anyone else. While Roxy may seem to be a sort of “Uncle Tom” figure here, Twain avoids this interpretation by making her as much of a victim as her son. Her claims about her ancestry are pathetic and ridiculous, but they show how deeply entrenched the white hegemony is. Roxy’s comments point to the fact that black blood is the problem: black labor has made the white masters wealthy and thus enabled both “Tom”‘s upbringing and the kind of rhetoric that the judge and Roxy use about their fine old families. Concepts of “honor” in this novel have little to do with standards of behavior but are instead ways to uphold an exploitative system.
Aside from the more profound issues at stake, this section also contains some of Twain’s finest comic writing. The scene at the anti-temperance meeting is theatrical and amusing. It also makes reference to one of the major figures to whom Twain sought to compare himself: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was the first to set up fire companies in the United States, and the Dawson’s Landing fire brigade is similar in its bumbling to the companies Franklin describes in his Autobiography. The comment about the townspeople insuring themselves against the firefighters rather than against fire is obviously Franklin-esque: wry, practical, and linguistically aware. Franklin is the epitome of the self-made man in American literature and history, and by making reference to him Twain means to challenge the idea of self-constructed identities in a world where race is so powerful a determinant that it can erase all else. Pudd’nhead, the most Franklin- like of the characters in this novel, has so far failed to become who he wants to be, and is left, like Franklin, conducting experiments that are ridiculed rather than appreciated. Still, his nomination for mayor suggests that he may enjoy some success after all.
The twins function more as mechanisms than human characters in this section. They are present to open up the closed circuit of society in this town: not understanding who’s who or what old prejudices and arguments are behind people’s behavior, they force the town to explain itself or to accommodate their lack of familiarity. One result of this is that the narrative tends to become more omniscient when the twins are present: the hidden narrator frequently offers windows into their thoughts and digressions about the town. The twins tell another wild story in this section, too, about Luigi’s past and their acquisition of the dagger. In doing so they once again expose the townspeople’s pathological fondness for the exotic and the importance of suspension of disbelief to narrative: Twain’s plot, after all, isn’t much less improbable than the twins’ stories. Finally they serve to interrogate issues of identity still further: their differences, both physical and in matters of opinion, are highlighted here through their behavior and through “Tom”‘s insistence that the twin’s fingerprints are identical. Their behavior toward one another is a complex mixture of loyalty and combativeness, an implicit contrast to the master-servant relationship between “Tom” and “Chambers”.
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