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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What are some literary devices utilized in The Prince and the Pauper?

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There are multiple literary devices found in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.

In the opening passage of the text, one can find imagery. Imagery is the use of descriptive language which allows the reader to create mental pictures based upon the descriptions provided by the author. In the opening passages, when the birth of Edward is celebrated, the text describes the feasts and festivals which accompanied it. During the day, there were festive parades and bright banners flown. At night, there were great bonfires lit around the city.

When the narrator is describing the differences between the Canty's and Tudor's homes, the word "hive" is used. This is a metaphor (which compares two typically dissimilar things, not using "like" or "as"). The busyness of each of the homes is identified as a hive (a place where bees live and very full of activity).

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An inimitable humorist, Mark Twain's first attempt at historical fiction contains several literary devices:

  • Symbolism

1.The Great Seal that Edward hides quickly before he and Tom exchange clothes represents his princely office.  In addition, it is the factor that verifies his identity as he is the only one who has known where the seal is.

2. Clothes are also symbolic.  Twain satirizes the adage, "Clothes make the man" as Tom and Edward are automatically reidentified after they exchange clothes, no matter what they say or do. This identification on such a superficiality is clearly indicative of Twain's cynicism of society.  Clothes, too, provide people social roles and all that accompanies these roles.

  • An understated tone

1. A seemingly artless narrator helps to create an understated style and tone that allows readers to form their own assessment of the society in which Edward and Tom live, a society that is remarkable for its cruelty to the downtrodden. In one instance the narrator innocently describes how those born on or around London Bridge are so conditioned to their odd lives that they find peace and quiet oppressive,

Men born and reared upon the Bridge found life unendurably dull and insane elsewhere.  History tells of one these who left the Bridge at the age of seventy-one and retired to the country.  But he could only fret...he could not go to sleep, the deep stillness was so painful, so awful, so oppressive.

2. The unjustifiable gratuitousness of Tom and Edward's identities being so changed by mere mistaken identity caused by their appearances affects the successfulness of Twain's understated style and tone.

With humor that is at times rather dark, Twain makes a satiric social commentary that is subtly misanthropic.  Despite the prince coming from an entirely different background and environment, there are similarities between him and the pauper Tom to confuse the royal court. And, it is only Edward's knowledge of where the lost great seal is that restores him as the rightful prince. Even though they are from polar ends of society, Tom and Edward are much the same;  thus, Twain mocks all the pretensions of society.

  • Ambivalence

One critic writes of Mark Twain,

The rich comedy of his narratives are often undercut by a darkness and a depth of seriousness which give his works an ambivalence, and ambivalence which reflects Twain's own divided nature.

In The Prince and the Pauper, Twain utilizes the motif of mistaken identities to create this ambivalence.

Throughout the narrative, the boys and other characters utter statements that exemplify verbal irony.  One instance occurs in Chapter 5 when Tom has an audience with the king and seems mad.  However, it is then the king and his attendants who act irrationally as they prepare to install Tom as the Prince of Wales.

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