Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain: Review

This is an odd little story. My feelings on Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain are all over the place.

David Wilson is a lawyer who had the unfortunate luck to be heard saying something smart-assed when he moved to the town of Dawson's Landing. The people who heard him took it the wrong way and nicknamed him Pudd'nhead. His practice is doomed. He also has a peculiar hobby, collecting fingerprints. 

At the same time, Roxy has a baby and also must take care of the master's son Thomas Driscoll. Roxy has a scare which makes her realize that her son Chambers, a slave and 1/32 black, could be sold down the river at any time. It's a desperate action but she switches Chambers with Thomas. "Thomas" grows into a spoiled, self-centred young man whose greed leads to crime.

Pudd'nhead Wilson is as much about perception as it is about slavery. Puddn'head is perceived to be stupid when he is quite clever. It is his smarts that find the real criminal. Then there are the two babies who resemble one another, despite one being a slave and the other the son of a slave owner, that they are interchangeable. However, one is doomed to be a slave because his mother was born a slave, and her mother, and so on. As far as anyone knows, Chambers is Thomas and vice versa. Even when Chambers finds out his real parentage, his perception of himself changes, for a short time at least.

I mentioned being torn by this book. I wanted Roxy's boy to grow and thrive but he turns into such a huge jerk. Especially to his own Mom. Maybe it's forgiveable (but not really) when he doesn't know who she is to him but then he finds out and... ugh. He is terrible to her. I even have conflicting feelings towards Roxy. She has such a difficult decision to make and then does the only thing she has the power to do. Later though she does some questionable things for questionable reasons. She's probably the most complex of the characters.

Puddn'head Wilson is a combination of the tragic and the comic. It's hard to know how to take it. But I guess that's Mark Twain.






  1. Why do they have a picture of Frank Stallone (Sylvester's brother) on the cover?

    Just kidding, great review.


  2. This sounds a little bit like The Prince and the Pauper.

  3. I've read very little of Mark Twain, but I have some of his work on my Nook that I may try to work into the classics challenge I'll be participating in in 2012. Thanks for your review, Chris!! This one sounds much more interesting than I always thought (the title turned me off).

  4. Wow, I can see why you are torn about this book- it sounds like it really gets very complex and into really difficult territory. I'll have to look into it.

  5. I really should read more Twain ... and this sounds like a good place to start. I never knew what this was about based on the title.

  6. Man- This book suffers from bad cover syndrome. This was the best I could find.

    Kathy- It is in a way!

    Andi & Jenners- I never would have read this because of the title but because my book club picked it I did!

    Aarti- It definitely does, which I think is a trait of Twain's.

  7. I enjoyed reading this book but I certainly agree it has some issues. It does provide much to consider about perception and reality and nature versus nurture, etc. It just didn't feel polished to me so it'll never be a favorite Twain of mine :(


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