The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson Analysis

Mark Twain

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

With twenty-two chapters, Pudd’nhead Wilson is half the length of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Unlike that vernacular masterpiece—which is narrated by Huck—Pudd’nhead Wilson is a plain third-person narrative set mostly in one place—Dawson’s Landing, a Southern village modeled on Twain’s boyhood hometown. The novel begins on February 1, 1830, when Percy Driscoll’s wife and his slave Roxy both deliver sons. A week later, Driscoll’s wife dies, leaving Roxy to rear both babies. Around this time, a young lawyer named David Wilson comes to town. An odd remark that he makes immediately gets him branded a “pudd’nhead.” Never able to get a legal case, he makes his living as a surveyor and dabbles at collecting fingerprints—a hobby that makes him appear even more foolish.

Roxy is one-sixteenth African by parentage and could easily pass for white, except for her strong slave dialect. Chambers, her son by a white man, so resembles Driscoll’s son that only she can tell them apart. When the babies are several months old, something happens to make Roxy fear that Chambers might be sold “down the river.” To ensure that this never happens, she decides to drown her baby and herself. A better idea occurs to her, however, and she switches the babies. No one else will guess their true identities for twenty-three years. From this point in the narrative, the boys are known by their false names. Roxy’s son grows up as “Tom Driscoll”; unaware of his true identity, he treats Roxy badly and abuses “Chambers”—the white slave whose place he has taken.

Through the novel’s first five chapters, twenty-three years...

(The entire section is 696 words.)


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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