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Pudd’nhead by Mark Twain is the story of Pudd’nhead Wilson who moves to Mississippi to start a new life. At the same time, slave Roxanna switches her baby boy with her master’s baby boy and so the future master becomes the slave and the slave becomes the future master. After twenty years, a murder occurs and it’s up to Pudd’nhead to solve the case to save an innocent life and find the true killer.


I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite books by Mark Twain because I love the characters and the social commentary that he is well known for. What I like is the start of every chapter with a verse from Pudd’nhead’s Calendar. They are just funny and true. My favorite one is from Chapter 14; “The true Southern watermelon” is a luxury and Eve didn’t eat one “because she repented.”  I love that.

Twain is a satire writer and the book can’t just be taken at face value. The fact the Pudd’nhead Wilson solves the case with fingerprints is meant to be funny. In our time, it’s logical to use them to close a case but in Twain’s time, it wasn’t. He also tackles the idea of nature vs. nurture. Tom who is a born a slave is educated as a white person and a future master of the household yet he is a poor excuse for a man. He appears to be civilized but he is rude, manipulative, and a robber. And Twain never developed Chambers who was born the master but was turned slave. But from what we can read, he is a decent guy more so than Tom. It brings up the question on how our bringing plays into our characters.

One of the things I like about this book is the last two paragraphs. The people would let Tom rot in jailed for the murder if he was a white person. Since he is not, he is a slave, the people of the town are perfectly contend to “sell him down the river.”It is this little difference it treating Tom that shows how twisted our perspective was when slavery was around. Tom lived as a free white man for most of his life yet the moment people find out he is a slave, those twenty years don’t matter. Also Chambers as well. He is immediately adopted as a white man when he really doesn’t have the skills to live as a free white man. His entire life he has spent as a slave and now the people expect him to be free and act free.

There is so much that can be said about this book. Like the “one drop of black blood” being blamed for everything that a person does wrong; how much race plays a role in the story. Plus, Roxanna is a complex character; She has to convince herself that her son is her master and play the role of the slave to her son. She tried to save him from being sold as a slave but in the end, she lost him to slavery because she has to act a certain way to keep alive.   She is playing a role but she truly becomes her role until she needs help.