February is a great month to read Mark Twain’s classic, Pudd’nhead Wilson. Twain had a newspaper man’s eye for details and a sharp wit which he never hesitated to employ. Twain’s literature satirized the American life and reflected the absurd in a way that popular television shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report still successfully mimic.
Pudd’nhead Wilson is a great example of a social protest novel. The story follows two half-brothers nearly identical in appearance but with completely different stations in life. One is the son of a wealthy slaveholder’s wife and the other is the son of her maid, a black woman.
Fearing for the safety of her own son, the slave woman switches the children in infancy by merely changing their clothes and calling them different names, irrevocably altering the course of both of their lives.
Twain proves that a funny story is often a better tool than an eloquent argument to make a point. Here are a couple of pieces of wisdom from the calendar of Mr. Pudd’nhead Wilson himself.
“Adam was but human-this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.”
“There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless. Observe the ass, for instance: his character is about perfect, he is the choicest spirit among all the humbler animals, yet see what ridicule has brought him to. Instead of feeling complimented when we are called an ass, we are left in doubt.”
“Mark Twain was the first truly American writer, and all of us since are his heirs, we descended from him. Before him the writers who were considered American were not, really; their tradition, their culture was European culture. Twain was the first that grew up with the belief that there is an American literature and he found himself producing it.”