introduction

Mark Twain originally conceived The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson as an extended comic novel that consisted of two separate strands. The dominant, comic strand related the Southern exposure of a European-born pair of Siamese twins who shared a single pair of legs. The remaining strand composed a tragedy of identity. Prior to publishing the work in 1894, Twain (a name meaning two) separated the tragedy of identity, Pudd'nhead Wilson, from the physical comedy, Those Extraordinary Twins, in what the author termed a "literary cesarean" birth. The publication of these two separate stories in a single volume stands as the result. This genesis--along with the focus on twins--suggests that Pudd'nhead Wilson emphasizes the multiplicity of identity.

The story dramatizes the tradeoffs the attorney David Wilson makes in order to achieve political, professional, and social status as a newcomer to Dawson's Landing. Despite his perseverance in collecting and interpreting fingerprints as a means of ascertaining identity, Wilson encounters the ostracism of the community and initially fails as an attorney. As a result, two sides of Wilson's identity emerge and develop: the one is the David Wilson who perseveres, the other the David Wilson who succumbs to social influences.

In parallel to its dramatization of society's influence on David Wilson's identity, the novel also critiques the identity of the Southern small town. Twain exposes a Southern strain of democracy as the impetus for Wilson's crisis. The ostensibly egalitarian democratic character of the small town society is a sham, a tragic tyranny of the masses sustained by the monarchical F.F.V. aristocracy's "unwritten," feudal "natural" laws. They result in the complete enslavement of blacks, and social and ideological enslavement of the white people of Dawson's Landing.

Early in the novel Wilson enters Dawson's Landing as a lowly "outsider" from New York who is born of Scotch roots. He is naively unconcerned with fitting into the ways of the Virginia-based aristocratic, slaveholding society. For example, upon his arrival in this town he is elected a "pudd'nhead" for making an ironic comment about killing "half a [yelping] dog" in order to bring the town peace. Eventually Wilson does bring a sort of peace to the town by solving a murder mystery whose plot is ironically born of the town's corrupt social structures. But Wilson triumphs only after partially succumbing to the social machinations of the Southern town. In order to succeed, he must subscribe to people's racial prejudices and traditional aristocratic customs. Throughout this development, part of Wilson's identity remains intact; he perseveres as his old self, working at his hobby of fingerprinting. Eventually such perseverance produces the final evidence in the case of a criminal's identity and contributes to his acceptance by the society. The people of Dawson's Landing redefine the "pudd'nhead" as a hero. Yet at the same time, Wilson's original identity does not remain intact. It is divided. The peace he brings to Dawson's Landing comes at the sacrifice of a significant portion of his original self--the self that ironically commented on the futility of separating the components of identity through his suggestion of killing "half a dog" to solve a social problem. He succeeds not at the cost of "half a dog," but at the cost of his true identity and the integrity of the town's democratic social structures.

As I have argued, Twain's novel comments on the ways in which social systems shape identity, for the community dictates what Wilson can be. Throughout Pudd'nhead Wilson, a series of six themes describe these identity- building social systems. Race, gender, politics, ancestry, law, and economics contribute to shape the nature of these social structures. While these themes can be separately identified and named--just as the "extraordinary twins" Luigi and Angelo, can act as individuals-- they may also share textual locations at the level of the sentence or paragraph. Thus these themes also resemble the twins in that they are overlapping and mutually reinforcing; often they occupy the same footprint.

This Smartext Edition can perform a sort of "critical cesarean" of the six themes of Twain's novel. Throughout this text, I have identified separately each of the identity-structuring social themes that Twain employs. Race, gender, ancestry, economics, law, and politics appear as a series of separate links that can be selected throughout the text. This separation of thematic categories is not discrete or exactly distinct, but rather results from acts of critical judgment. Many of these passages overlap, bleeding into one another, so that a passage on, for example, slavery may also be identified as a citation for economics, law, race, ancestry, or even politics. Such overlapping among passages and thematic categories illustrates what I believe to be Twain's main point in Pudd'nhead Wilson: that elements which compose identity are socially constructed and mutually sustaining. Their essences are necessarily mixed. For Twain, the disassociation one element from a single set of social constructs is as impossible as killing half a dog, or surgically separating a set of Siamese twins who share the same heart, trunk, and legs.

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