Pudd’nhead Wilson was my first introduction to Mark Twain, but as a freshman in High School I’m sad to say his brilliance was lost on me. I didn’t read any more Twain until I started Cannonball Read this year. I decided to read Huckleberry Finn. I really did like the book, but I hated the ending and I didn’t like how long it took to teach. So this is what led me to consider another work by Twain that didn’t feature Tom Sawyer. Don’t even get me started on him. I feel like it’s important for people to read Twain not only for his wit and satire, but because of the way he can tell a story and tackle issues such as slavery and society’s expectations for race.
It took me awhile to get into Pudd’nhead Wilson mostly because it takes Twain awhile to land on which character is going to be the focus of the story. First it’s Roxy, then it’s Tom, then it’s the twins, and finally, Wilson. Then I had to work to figure out what the point of the novel is because it’s one of Twain’s darkest and most satirical. I like to get to know a character or characters and invest in their development. So when it takes awhile to get to know a character it’s hard for me to get invested in the book.
When we finally settle on Tom it becomes easier to get into the plot. But then you realize Tom is a douche. He’s the guy you just want to punch in the face and you don’t know why (which is exactly how I feel about the dude to the right, soccer phenom Cristiano Ronaldo). Ok, by the time you get into the book there’s a ton of reasons why you want to punch him in the face, but yet everyone seems to just accept him as he is. Maybe people were just more patient and accepting than I am.
And then there’s Wilson. Dear, dear Wilson. He’s patient in the face of ignorance, accepting in the face of douche baggery, and he’s persistent in the face of hopelessness. He’s sort of the late-blooming hero. And the thing is, looking back on the story, you know he’s going to win in the end, yet you aren’t sure how the plots going to get there. I think he’s a good role model because he does him like a honeybadger. He doesn’t change who he is because the townspeople don’t understand him. He persists in his hobby of fingerprinting before it became a legitimate form of identification and criminology. And he is genuinely a nice guy. A little naive, but nice all the same.
Ultimately what I came away from the novel is how absurd society’s expectations are for race. While we don’t legally treat people different based on race (unless you live in Ferguson, Mo.), we do “expect” individuals of particular races to behave in different ways. That’s where racial profiling occurs or when people are shocked that someone of Hispanic or African-American descent is a valedictorian. Or if you’re a European American who is fluent in Spanish but is continually questioned whether he can legitimately speak Spanish because his skin is so light; it’s just insulting. I think it’s all the more potent that Twain wrote this satire on race and social expectation in 1894 so long after the Civil War yet clearly people were still treating individuals as if they were back in the antebellum South. And sadly we haven’t moved very far from this paradigm. We have room to grow but we have to embrace the desire for growth. I hope that someday in the future, readers will reflect on how far in the past racism and racial profiling are and we can all just get along and accept each other for who we are.