30 September 2014
Stereotypes in Pudd’nhead Wilson Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson problematizes the concept of race by indicating to the audience that blacks and whites are inherently distinct, therefore making whites the superior. This issue of identity is tied very closely to the heart of the plotline, and always traces back to Roxy’s inability to save her son from his heritage. Tom’s racial identity crisis is manifested best in chapter 10: he starts to act meek and mild around his white counterparts, he encounters difficulty eating with his family, and lastly, his raids become increasingly more frequent. He contributes these behaviors to his nature – his black lineage. However, it becomes apparent throughout the chapter that Twain’s writing favors nurture as the reason for Tom’s actions. Once Roxy reveals to Tom that he is actually 1/32 black and she switched him and Chambers at birth (42), he wakes up the next morning and begins to contemplate, “Why were niggers and whites made? What crime did the uncreated first nigger commit that the curse of birth was decreed for him? And why is this awful difference made between white and black? …How hard the nigger’s fate seems, this morning! –yet until last night such a thought never entered my head” (46). Chambers then entered Tom’s room to announce breakfast would be ready shortly. Tom reacted hostilely, for he was embarrassed that the true white man was speaking to him so submissively when it was Tom who was living a lie. The quote and summary of the scene revolve around the way society shapes characters and subsequently dictates the mannerisms they adopt, hence why Tom for the next few days adopts the hat of a black man. For example, when meeting new people, his arm hung limp when shaking hands (47). This exhibits how lowly Tom regarded blacks: that blacks are not worthy enough shake the hands of a white person, and Tom is now experiencing these feelings of inadequacy. Although there isn’t much dialogue in the scene, Twain’s word choice is enough to paint the picture: “ashamed,” “abashed,” “shrinking,” and “skulking” all make an appearance in the chapter, demonstrating how Tom is mortified of his true background. The discovery of Tom’s black lineage affects even the smallest parts of his day-to-day life, for example his ability to eat with his family: “he dreaded his meals, the ‘nigger’ in him was ashamed to sit at the white folks’ table”. (47) Instead of serving the family like another black man would, Tom was able to sit and dine with the white folk. Moreover, a family friend Rowena, whom Tom idolized, invited Tom over to dinner and he refused the invitation, making up an excuse instead because "was afraid to enter and sit with the dread white folks on equal terms." This also transitions into how he’s uncomfortable when his aunt expresses affection for him: Tom is uncomfortable with a white woman hugging a black man, even if she doesn’t know it. There are clear social structures within the town of Dawson’s Landing, and although no one beside Tom and Roxy are aware of the switch, he can’t shake the feeling that he does not belong with “his” white family and friends.
Twain demonstrates a compelling theory in the novel: racial difference is just a societal fabrication that attributes character to blood – although these differences do not exist. To everyone, Tom is a white man. The 1/32 black in him does not show, and even with Roxy it was stated “To all intents and purposes, Roxy was as white as anybody, but the one-sixteenth of her which was black out-voted the other fifteen parts and made her a Negro” (7). Roxy contributed Tom being an exacting baby with poor character to the black in him; however, he has been raised white, which alludes to the argument of nature versus nurture. Chambers is white, but has been raised black, and is a much more dignified, mature adult than Tom, who is black, but has been raised white. To