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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How has Edward's experience as a pauper influenced him in The Prince and the Pauper?

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Edward, Prince of Wales and son of King Henry VIII, exchanges clothes with Tom Canty, a poor beggar boy who looks very much like him. In his ragged clothes, Edward is mistaken for a beggar and thrown out of the palace.

As he wanders the streets, hungry and forlorn, he learns how rough life is for the poor. Nobody puts on a show for him because nobody knows he is a prince. Nobody feels compelled to show him kindness. He is exposed to a gang of thieves and to living in a hut. He learns to appreciate getting something to eat. He comes to understand what is like when nobody will believe what you say and when people treat you as if you are crazy--or when you are at the mercy of a truly crazy person who wants to kill you.

After he regains his rightful position, now as King of England after his father dies, Edward rights some of the wrongs the poor suffer. He can no longer dismiss their plight, having experienced it firsthand.

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“What dost thou know of suffering and oppression? I and my people know, but not thou.”

The statement by King Edward VI summarized his experience as a pauper, and how the incident influenced him. After he was thrown out of the royal court, Edward ended up mingling with some local boys. The boys made fun of him, and he was determined to improve their lives by getting them an education when he ascended the throne. Edward also met with other individuals who had suffered great ills at the hands of their tormentors, and he planned to make things right. Edward got an opportunity to live among his people and understand their challenges and suffering. He was made aware of issues and circumstances that would otherwise be hidden from him given his status and the protection of the royal court. His exposure to the reality of the lives of his people helped him develop care and compassion towards his subjects, which made him an agreeable king.

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