EA4312, Dr. Pressman
04/02/03, WC: 690
Pudd’nhead Wilson: Overt Duality
In Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), Mark Twain tells of one black and one white baby, secretly switched in their cradles at seven months of age. Nobody notices this exchange. The novel’s second plot involves a sophisticated lawyer from the East coast, David Wilson, who comes to Dawson’s Landing, the unsophisticated, slaveholding small town where the two babies live. Here Wilson hopes to begin a legal practice.
At the end of the novel, the two plots converge in a murder trial. Attorney Wilson exposes the secret of the switched babies in the only case he has tried during his twenty-three year stay in Dawson’s Landing. Although not uncommon for authors to use dual plots in a novel, Twain’s overt use of duality is a bit much.
The duality motif in Pudd’nhead Wilson begins with two babies being switched in their cradles. A slave woman named Roxana switches her son, Chambers, with her owner’s son, Tom. She does this to spare Chambers from being “sold down the river (68).” Slaves believed that their being sold down the river “was equivalent to condemning them to hell!” The switch is successful because the two boys, born on the same day, look alike, and are seldom seen by anyone other than Roxana.
One day Wilson sees the babies when Roxana takes them for an afternoon stroll and happens upon Wilson’s office. After a brief chat with Roxana, Wilson gets the ok to finger–print the boys. Wilson takes two sets of prints from the fingers of both hands. Enjoying finger–printing all he meets, he is amused by this “fad without a name (62).” Twenty-three years later, Wilson uses these prints to reveal the boys’ true identity.
Palmistry, the second favorite fad of Wilson’s, also plays an integral part in the plot. Wilson, upon reading Count Luigi’s palm, correctly guesses that the Count had previously killed a man. “I killed the man for good reasons, and I don’t regret it,” said Luigi (130).This statement is later used against the Count when he is accused of killing Judge Driscoll, Tom‘s stepfather. Count Luigi is the conjoined twin of Count Angelo. In the novel, the necessity of the Count’s being a twin is not revealed, other than to show conspicuously Twain’s fascination with duality.
Twain’s duality motif is once again apparent when two funerals are held in Dawson’s Landing: “One was that of Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, the other that of Percy Driscoll (82).” The death of Essex’s is critical to the story because he fathered Chambers. This prevents any chance for Chambers ever to pass for white, other than in this implausible plot. Roxana becomes a “free” woman after her owner Driscoll dies. His death is significant since it sets up the duality of Roxana‘s life—free and enslaved.
There are other references to duality in Pudd’nhead Wilson, including: the issue of slavery between the North and the South; the sheriff’s being a competent law enforcement official, yet unable to find those committing crimes; Judge Driscoll’s being a father, but not a real father, and Roxana’s being part black and part white. But the most obvious hint of duality lies in the nick-name Pudd‘nhead, given to Wilson by the citizen‘s of Dawson‘s Landing when he said, “I wish I owned half of that dog (59).” Wilson was referring to a “yelp[ing] and snarl[ing] and howl[ing]” dog. When asked why he wanted to own only half a dog, Wilson replied, “Because I would kill my half.” This misconstrued joke gave rise to Wilson’s being called Pudd’nhead, as well as his inability to get legal work even though he was an intelligent man.
Twain employed one plot primarily to juxtapose the life of a slave to that of a slave owner and to address the morality of slavery. He used the second plot to unravel the mystery of the switched babies. More importantly, he used it to find the person who murdered Judge Driscoll. Mark Twain should not have found it necessary to use two plots and an overt use of duality to convey his feelings about slavery to the reader.