The novel “The Tragedy of Pudd’n Head Wilson” by Mark Twain is a narrative that is plotted on the setting of Dawson’s Landing, a town in Missouri that lies along the banks of river Mississippi. Basically, it is referred as a slaveholding town that is rich in grains and pork that are nurtured by slaves. However, this novel is composed on segment of people’s lives that expose both negative and positive experiences. The coexistence on many characters creates a detailed pattern that extremely asserts coexistence of several themes throughout the novel and also its setting. Moreover, the theme of race is perhaps the major theme whereby the arbitrary nature of racial classification is prevalent throughout the narrative. Moreover, Twain critically reveals the issue of racial classifications which is mainly based on the two races that are; the Native Americans and the slaves who are the African Americans. Racial distinctions segregate the ethnicity of Dawson landing through ethical traits. However, the theme of racism that is prevalent throughout the narrative is a factor that influence slaves oppression and deprive them liberty.
Racial identity is a concept that has been used in the novel to identify slaves. A person with black ancestry could be owned as a slave therefore regarded as white man’s property. However, the people of Dawson landing are categorized according to hierarchical social order whereby the first families of Virginian ancestry are ranked at the apex of this ladder followed by the white citizen who follow their lineage back in the states of Virginia then followed by other whites, free black and the slaves occupy the lowest rank of the social order (Twain). According to the narrative, slaves are normally not allowed to integrate with the other social class while their portion is situated in the backcountry. It is evident that slaves are subjected to discrimination and oppression due to their black race ancestry. However, a critique of slavery and race relations are revealed whereas blacks are regarded as dishonest. For instance, they were caught having stolen some money from their master, “Name the thief!” For the fourth time Mr. Driscoll had said it, and always in the same hard tone. And now he added these words of awful import: “I give you one minute.” He took out his watch. “If at the end of that time, you have not confessed, I will not only sell all four of you BUT—I will sell you DOWN THE RIVER!” It was equivalent to condemning them to hell! No Missouri Negro doubted this.”(Twain). This attribute is regarded as a form of expressing their defiance against their masters who oppress them and deprive them liberty but rather not as a character flaw of slaves. Furthermore, at the end of the story Tom’s death sentence is successfully petitioned to be overturned by the murdered man’s creditor since Tom is revealed to be a black and therefore he is a slave. Arguably, he is rightfully regarded as their property and his sale “down the river” would eventually enact them to compensate their incurred losses. (Twain)
On the other hand, the aspect of racial discrimination attributes to slavery in the antebellum Missouri. It was evident that if someone could have some element of black ancestry or ethnicity, that person would be considered as a slave and therefore traded as a white’s property. Moreover, racial relations remains to be miserable problem based on the societal aspect. Slaves were regarded as illiterate and you could tell it by their verbal communication that was quite different compared to that of the whites. The reason was that English language was not their native language. Furthermore, Twain seems to confuse the issue of race in his narrative. In 19th century, race was considered as the most crucial aspect when slavery was still legal therefore if a person could posses a fraction of black ancestry, that person could be owned as slave. For instance, “To all intents and purposes Roxy was as 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). However, arbitrariness of social classifications is shown hence attributing to racism that is mainly portrayed by the white race.
On the contrary to the context, the slaves were discriminated to live a standard life due to racial prejudice. The punn’n head Wilson describe slaves to belong in the black race hence they were considered to be inferior in the hierarchal rank of societal order compared to the white race. For instance, despite Roxy possessing white resemblance in her physical appearance, the fraction of her black blood subjected her to be owned as a slave together with her son who had similar complexion with that of his white comrade. On the other hand, the aspect of discrimination seems to be major in the case whereby the two baby boys whose parents were different (Roxy who was a slave was a mother to Chamber and Mr. Driscoll who was Roxy’s master was the father to Thomas) could only be differentiated by the type of their clothes that classified their race. The white child could wear ruffled soft muslin and a coral necklace while the other slave child could wear merely a coarse tow-linen shirt that barely reached to its knees, and no jewelry (Twain). Prejudice and racial discrimination denied the black child the privilege to wear elegantly like the white child. Despite the fact that the slaves were considered to be illiterate since they belonged to the black ancestries on the other hand Twain describes how seemingly intelligent they were. Basically, they could be able to protest against racial discrimination through various actions. For instance, Roxy is a slave woman who is regarded to possess African American originality despite being a slave. She fears that one day her son could be one day sold down the river and thus decide to save him. However, her intentions to switch their clothes was fruitful since the children’s complexion looked quite similar and they could be hardly be differentiated. Arguably, race was based on the essence of ancestry whereby in order to be owned as a slave in the Dawson landing; the person must be entitled to belong to the black ancestry unlike the whites who belonged to the Virginian ancestry. Racism crossed beyond the borders of skin tone color to blood ethnicity.
Racism had a major impact in the life cycle of the characters. For instance the switching of clothes is as symbol that shows how the lives of the both children were transformed whereby the slave child became prominent while that of master’s child became miserable. The symbolism further reveals how the white race despised the black race whom the measured as a source of wealth as they regarded them as properties. Tom effectively transformed to adapt the characters of white race while he was nurtured. The irony is portrayed at the end of the story when his life transformed after evading the unbearable fate of harsh life on the southern and adapting to the luxury life of being a master. On the contrary, the degree of racial classification is seen on the account of the twin brother whereby they recount how they were sold as slaves in order to compensate their parent’s debts. The perception of slavery in this case is quite different with that of the black Americans slaves thus when compared the notable differences between them is that the Capello’s twins are white while the slaves in the south are black. Arguably, race is the major difference between them and by contrast the twin brothers can overcome the slavery oppression hence they receive praise and respect from their white race unlike the black American slaves whom never receive any respect when they manage to escape slavery oppression from their master but rather they are despised in the community and remain in the lowest rank of hierarchal social order.
In conclusion, Twain argues that the act of slaves being deceitful and dishonest is an act of survival and protesting against their oppression besides slaves were viewed as dishonest during that time. On contrary to this context, Twain’s argument was ironical as the fateful character of Tom portrayed the betrayed the slaves character of being dishonest. On the other hand, the arbitrariness of racial classifications is seen when the prominent white citizens view themselves as a higher class of humanity whereas their perception is ironical since they are oppressors of the slaves. However, this aspect contributes to racism that attributes to oppression, discrimination and prejudice of black Americans.
Twain, Mark. The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. New York: New American Library, 1964. Print.
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