The Novel Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain


Racial issues have always been a complicated problem to touch upon. People are intrinsically predisposed to having issues with accepting different views and concepts, as well as people who look or behave differently; hence the phenomenon of racism emerges.

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Numerous cases on racism provide a lot of food for thoughts. Some of them are well ahead of their time, like the fictional story of Pudd’nhead Wilson created by Mark Twain; others set the history several decades back, like the notorious case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which resulted in setting the American and the African American population even further apart from each other.

Despite the fact that there is little similarity between such texts as Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and the Plessy v. Ferguson legal case, both address the issue of racism, even though the conclusions that each ext makes are, in fact, diametrically opposite.

Due to the sheer complexity of its plot, the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain is now often being referred, as such that represents a somewhat undermined literary value. Nevertheless, in light of what accounts for the discursive implications of the recent discoveries in the field of genetics, this particular novel cannot be referred to like anything by intellectually enlightening. This, of course, provides us with the additional rationale to reassess the true significance of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson legal case, as such that implies that, even though the practice of a racial stereotipyzation does stand in a striking opposition to the discourse of political correctness, it nevertheless is scientifically valid to an extent.


Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among many Americans to bash the legal case Plessy v. Ferguson, as having been strongly racist and as such that violated the basic provisions of the American Constitution – specifically, the Constitution’s Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. After all, the court’s ruling, in respect to this case, which found the application of the race-segregation by-law in Louisiana legally appropriate, does appear to contradict these Amendments’ insistence that, in the eyes of law, American citizens are equal – regardless of what the color of their skin is.

However, as it was pointed out by the court, even though the principle of people’s equality does serve as a legal foundation, upon which the American society is based, it does not imply the absence of the visually/behaviorally observed differences between white and colored citizens, therefore, stating that the given case “does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, is too clear for argument” (Plessy v. Ferguson para. 26).

Therefore, it remained well within the legal prerogative of the de jure independent state of Louisiana to define the manner, in which the recognition of these differences was taken into consideration by state legislators, who in turn strived to ensure that the state jurisdiction’s subjects to adhere to the ideals of an interracial tolerance. After all, without taking these ideals close to their hearts, citizens will not be able to relate to the constitutionally upheld principle of people’s legal equality, in the first place.

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Apparently, the Louisiana’s legislators had a good reason to believe that it is namely by being provided with the opportunity to lead ‘equal but separate’ existence that the state’s racially dissimilar citizens would be able to treat each other with respect, seeing how it was ruled out in the Plessy v. Ferguson case that “the enforced separation of the races, as applied to the internal commerce of the State, neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of his property without due process of law, nor denies him the equal protection of the laws, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Plessy v. Ferguson para. 39). Hence, the discursive significance of the court’s reference to ‘tradition’, as a semi-legal ground, out of which law originates:

So far, then, as a conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned, the case reduces itself to the question whether the statute of Louisiana is a reasonable regulation… In determining the question of reasonableness it is at liberty to act with reference to the established usages, customs, and traditions of the people. (Plessy v. Ferguson para. 45)

Due to Louisiana’s history, as probably the first truly multicultural state in the US, there can be very little doubt that the regulation in question was indeed reasonable, because it reflected the state-legislators’ understanding of the fact that people’s legal equality does not imply their existential ‘sameness’ – especially if they happened to be the representatives of different races.

Apparently, the judges did anticipate that the citizens’ enforced ‘equalization’ would prove counter-beneficial in the long run – something that we have learned only recently, due to the utter fiasco of ‘multiculturalism’ in the modern day America. Thus, the outcome of the Plessy v. Ferguson case can be referred to as such that reflected the court’s awareness of the fact that the way, in which people address life-challenges, is being strongly affected by the specifics of their racial affiliation.

Therefore, it is indeed appropriate to draw discursive parallels between this specific case and the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson. The rationale behind this suggestion is quite apparent – just as it happened to be the case with judges that had dealt with the Plessy v. Ferguson case, in his novel Twain proved himself an individual who knew that the behavior of a particular person cannot be discussed outside of what are the qualitative characteristics of his or her ‘blood’:

Wilson said to himself, “The drop of black blood in her is superstitious; she thinks there’s some devilry, some witch business about my glass mystery somewhere; she used to come here with an old horseshoe in her hand; it could have been an accident, but I doubt it.” (Twain 30)

The validity of the suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to how the author describes the behavioral leanings of the characters of Tom and Chambers. Although, during the course of their infancy, both of these characters were visually identical (which allowed Roxana to replace them with one another, without having this replacement noticed), ever since their early years, they began to exhibit diametrically opposite behavioral traits.

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For example, even though that, while growing up in Judge Driscoll’s household, ‘Tom’ (Chambers) never experienced any material hardships, which could have turned him into a ‘bitter’ individual, he nevertheless ended up becoming nothing less than the embodiment of wickedness, in the literal sense of this word. It is needless to mention, of course, that the author’s portrayal of ‘Tom’ (Chambers), exposes the fallaciousness of the ‘politically correct’ psychological theories, which are based upon the assumption that the qualitative aspects of one’s behavior are environmentally rather than genetically predetermined.

The same can be said about the author’s portrayal of ‘Chambers’ (Tom), as a thoroughly good-natured and kind person, who due to his status of a slave never ceased being abused physically and psychologically: “Tom got all the petting, Chambers got none. Tom got all the delicacies, Chambers got mush and milk, and clabber without sugar… In babyhood, Tom cuffed and banged and scratched Chambers unrebuked” (22). This, however, did not have any effect on this character’s ability to lead a morally decent lifestyle – quite contrary to how the environmentalist behavioral theories would have predicted it.

Evidently enough, a striking dichotomy between how ‘Chambers’ (Tom) and ‘Tom’ (Chambers) used to position themselves in life did not reflect the specifics of these characters’ upbringing. Apparently, there was something else, rather deeply hidden, which caused both characters to act in the way they did. In one of her conversations with her son, Roxana reveals the actual cause of ‘Tom’s’ evilness with perfect clarity: “It’s de nigger in you, that’s what it is. Thirty-one parts o’ you is white, en only one part nigger, en date to’ little one part is yo’ soul” (83). It is rather ironic that despite lacking a basic education, Roxana was nevertheless well aware of what accounts for the psychological effects of the practice of crossbreeding and also the fact these effects reflect the objective laws of nature, to which the representatives of Homo Sapiens species are being subjected as much, as plants and animals are.

For example, it does not represent any secret to dog breeders that the most vicious dogs (such as pit bulls), known for their tendency to attack small children, are always the ones that have been affected by crossbreeding the most (Cohen and Richardson 302).

The fact that racial hybrids tend to act viciously and unpredictably, is also well known in American jails, which explains why Hispanics are being equally disliked by both: ‘pure blooded’ White and Black inmates and assault the latter two on a regular basis, both in and outside of prison: “The Mexican Mafia assault Hispanic drug dealers from Northern California if they enter Los Angeles County jails, and they seek out and attack black drug dealing gangs” (Skarbek 710). The idea of race as the factor that matters once again substantiates the validity of the initial thesis that discursively speaking, there is indeed much in common between the legal case and the novel in question.

At the same time, however, there is a certain inconsistency between the two, with respect to how they address the issue of race. This inconsistency is being concerned with the fact that; whereas, the outcome of the Plessy v. Ferguson case reflected judges’ tendency to think of one’s racial affiliation in terms of the concerned individual’s skin-color alone, the race-related themes and motifs, contained in Pudd’nhead Wilson, appear to extrapolate Twain’s subliminal awareness that the term race refers to the state of one’s mind, rather than to his or her skin-color alone. Therefore, there can only be a few doubts that, when compared with the case Plessy v. Ferguson, the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson is much more progressive. After all, the race-related ideas, explored in it, do resonate with what contemporary geneticists know about the effects of an individual’s racial self-identity on the manner in which he or she positions itself in life (Rindermann, Woodley and Stratford 368).


As it was shown earlier, even though there is indeed much of controversy to the case Plessy v. Ferguson and to the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, there can be no doubt that, while exposed to them, readers should be able to expand their intellectual horizons rather substantially. This simply could not be otherwise, because even though they are concerned with rather unrelated subject matters, both of these pieces do contain a number of legally/scientifically sound insights, in regards to the issue of race. I believe this conclusion is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.

Works Cited

Cohen, Judy and John Richardson. “Pit Bull Panic.” Journal of Popular Culture 36.2 (2002): 285-317. Print.

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Plessy v. Ferguson 1896. Web.

Rindermann, Heiner; Michael Woodley and James Stratford. “Haplogroups as Evolutionary Markers of Cognitive Ability.” Intelligence 40.4 (2012): 362-375. Print.

Skarbek, David. “Governance and Prison Gangs.” American Political Science Review 105.4 (2011): 702-716. Print.

Twain, Mark. Pudd’nhead Wilson. Philadelphia: The Pensylvania State University, (1894) 1998. PSU’s Electronic Classics. Web.

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