introduction

index

Themes

Mark Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson chiefly explores the social systems which shape class and identity in the pre-Civil War South. Race, gender, politics, economics, ancestry, and law shape the individual and collective identity of Dawson's Landing. As interdependent, intersecting social structures, these systems operate as complimentary elements of Southern society and and stand out as the main thematic scaffolding of Twain's novel. For example, in both Southern society and Pudd'nhead Wilson the construction of race is rooted in ancestry, yet affects the individual in legal and economic terms. Race ultimately influences the political and legal boundaries of Southern statehood and identity. Economic status defines the political status of the individual as a member of a larger democratic process, and is often the result of a class level achieved through ancestry. In Tom Driscoll's case, this dynamic is complicated through a confusion of race and ancestry, which ultimately tests legal categories . While laws attempt to organize and structure these social foundations, the legal process is often corrupted by the very categories it attempts to control. Such a thematic complexity has led critics such as Hershel Parker to describe Pudd'nhead Wilson as patently unreadable.

In order to understand and illustrate the overlapping and problematic systems shaping Twain's Dawson's Landing, I have created this study of Pudd'nhead Wilson around the thematic categories of race, gender, economics, law, politics, and ancestry. At the beginning of this project I had only two catagories: race and class. Yet the complexity of the society of Dawson's landing necessitated the expansion of the number of catagories. Even with an increase in catagories, the catagorical subject headings do not clearly delineate the social structures of the society Twain describes in Dawson's Landing. To learn more about how I have defined, chosen, and applied these catagories to the text, click on any of the following items:

race gender politics
law ancestry economics
Mark Twain employs these social systems as the main themes of Pudd'nhead Wilson. As the novel shows, these themes are interdependent. The purpose of this project is to explore their weblike interconnectivity within both the text and pre-Civil War society.