illustration of the prince and the pauper standing back to back with a castle on the prince's side and a low building on the pauper's

The Prince and the Pauper

by Mark Twain
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In The Prince and the Pauper, how do appearances affect the way both Edward and Tom are treated? How do they react to the way they are treated? How do “clothes make the man” in today’s society? How do people react to outward appearances?

In Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, beggar Tom and Prince Edward exchange clothing. That exchange of clothing leads to an exchange of lives, as people cannot see past the boys' appearance and accept that Edward is really who he claims to be or understand why Tom is behaving so oddly. Appearance still plays a large role in people's perceptions in today's society.

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In Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, prince Edward Tudor trades clothing with beggar Tom Canty after the two see each other from opposite sides of the palace fence. They are fascinated by each other's lives, and since they actually look very much alike, when they exchange clothing, no one can tell that Tom is not Edward and that Edward is not Tom.

Without thinking, Edward rushes out to rebuke a guard while still wearing Tom's clothing, and the guard does not and will not recognize him as a prince. He thinks Edward is the beggar boy pretending. A crowd gathers, and Edward is mocked and even beaten. He angrily continues to proclaim that he is the prince, but no one believes him. They cannot see beyond his appearance, and they think he is just plain crazy.

Meanwhile, Tom, dressed in Edward's clothing, has no idea how to actually act like a prince. His behavior is so odd that the occupants of the palace think the “prince” has lost his mind. Tom is frightened, and he tries to explain that he is not mad, but everything he says makes the situation worse. He is dressed in the prince's clothing and therefore must be the prince. Again, people cannot see beyond appearance.

The refusal of others to see beyond the boys' clothing leads them both into a series of adventures. Edward learns exactly what it is like to be a poor, mistreated beggar. For a while, he continues to insist upon who he really is, but that only makes people think all the more that he has gone insane. Tom works very hard to learn how to be a prince, for he is afraid of what will happen if anyone finally figures out he is not. Eventually, the two boys come back together and finally switch back to their real identities.

Let's think now about how this tale applies to modern life. We, too, tend to judge people on their appearances. Think about how you would react to this scenario: A businessman in an expensive suit and tie, complete with polished shoes and tasteful gold jewelry, is standing next to a man in tattered blue jeans, a flannel shirt, battered sneakers, and an old ball cap. You have to choose one of these two people to take a job in your company. You are told that the man in the jeans, even though he looks rather ragged, is next thing to a genius with computers and has plenty of experience in the role you're looking to fill. The man in the suit is a recent college graduate with little or no experience. Think about how you would decide who gets the job. You might eventually choose the man in the old clothes, but you would certainly hesitate. This goes to show exactly how much appearance still matters in today's society.

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