The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

by Mark Twain, (Samuel Clemens


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At the beginning of Pudd'nhead Wilson a young slave woman, fearing for her infant's son's life, exchanges her light-skinned child with her master's. From this rather simple premise Mark Twain fashioned one of his most entertaining, funny, yet biting novels. On its surface, Pudd'nhead Wilson possesses all the elements of an engrossing nineteenth-century mystery: reversed identities, a horrible crime, an eccentric detective, a suspenseful courtroom drama, and a surprising, unusual solution. Yet it is not a mystery novel. Seething with the undercurrents of antebellum southern culture, the book is a savage indictment in which the real criminal is society, and racial prejudice and slavery are the crimes. Written in 1894, Pudd'nhead Wilson glistens with characteristic Twain humor, with suspense, and with pointed irony: a gem among the author's later works.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781537693200
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 09/16/2016
Pages: 170
Sales rank: 634,751
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.36(d)

About the Author

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 - 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer. Among his novels are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called "The Great American Novel". Though Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he invested in ventures that lost a great deal of money, notably the Paige Compositor, a mechanical typesetter, which failed because of its complexity and imprecision. In the wake of these financial setbacks, he filed for protection from his creditors via bankruptcy, and with the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers eventually overcame his financial troubles. Twain chose to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, though he had no legal responsibility to do so.

Date of Birth:

November 30, 1835

Date of Death:

April 21, 1910

Place of Birth:

Florida, Missouri

Place of Death:

Redding, Connecticut

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The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
tzelman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rather belabored plot, but funny and well-written--Puddin'head's chapter openers are Twain at his best
theokester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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
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