Specifically, how is Mark Twain's satire warranted in The Prince and the Pauper?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In The Prince and the Pauper, satire is warranted in a couple of distinct ways.  One particular way is in how Twain wishes to make the distinction between money and value.  The idea of a person's value is constructed through materialism and outward appearance, something that Twain satirizes in the novel.  As reflected in the opening paragraph, there is really nothing that distinguishes the two boys.  Both are born on the same day, essentially entering the world in the same manner.  The primary difference is where both children are born. Tom is born into abject poverty to parents who do not want him, while Edward is born into a condition of lavish luxury and parental love.  Twain satirizes the social construct that condemns Tom and praises Edward. The target of Twain's satire is a social condition that fails to honor the individual sense of character.  Tom and Edward change clothes.  Their lives change as a result of this outward appearance. The social condition that emphasizes value and worth is a social construction that Twain satirizes.

Accordingly, satire becomes the main element that criticizes the Status Quo.  Twain makes it clear that Tom is an effective ruler because he is an outsider.  He advocates for those who are the victims of religious persecution and wishes to make government in the form of the monarchy more responsive to the real world conditions of human beings.  At the same time, leaving the protected world of wealth and privilege makes Edward a more effective and just ruler. He is able to understand the cruel horrors of poverty as well as terrible conditions that govern English prisons.  Twain satirizes how rulers become ineffective when they do not recognize the plight of those they govern.  In this light, Twain's satire is warranted.  He is making fun of a system where those in the position of power have little comprehension as to the full force and meaning of their power.  

Finally, Twain satirizes the traditional monarchial idea of the divine right of kings.  This premise asserts that there is something fundamentally different about those born into monarchy. The divine right of kings is what governs the kingdom in Tudor England.  Twain subverts this in his suggestion that really anyone can be a king. Tom is a street urchin, born into destitution and poverty. However, he is believed to be the king.  Edward is born into royalty and thrown out into the streets and into prison when he is perceived to be poor.  There is no intrinsic value to divinity.  It is socially constructed.  Twain believes that satirizing this condition of wealth, privilege, and power is warranted.

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