Miscegenation in Mark Twain’s The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson
Mark Twain in his book “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson” clearly elucidates the treatment of slaves and the legal problems faced back then by different groupings. Miscegenation is a term broadly used to refer to the mixing of different races either through marriage or through parenting. The term had much relevance in the 19th Century, which doubled up as the setting of the book by Twain. Pudd’nhead Wilson as depicted in the book is a true representation of miscegenation and the legal problems in the antebellum South (Twain 32). The book is set in Dawson’s landing, a slaveholding town in the South.
A woman Roxana features in the book because she was one of the twenty-year-old slaves in the town. She worked in the house of Mr. Percy Northumberland Driscoll, and in 1830, she got a baby the same time as Mrs. Percy who died leaving Roxy to look after the two babies. At the same time David Wilson having wondered from Ney York, later settled in the little town (Twain 61). David Wilson in his first days in the town made a comment about a dog that was so shallow, which earned him the nickname Pudd’nhead Wilson. Wilson comes across Roxy in his daily activities and readers learn that he was fifteen parts white and only one part black.
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However, because of her slavery status, she was grouped as a ‘negro’. Her stature, composure, and mannerism were different from that of ‘negroes’; unfortunately, her speech gave her away as a slave. The clear separation between races is evident through Roxy because her baby is treated differently despite having the same father as Mrs. Percy’s baby. The two babies’ clothing differs, which is only an indicator to their fate (Twain 67). Miscegenation is elaborated by Roxy’s affair with her master, which does not change due to her status as a slave, let alone the fact that she borne him a child.
The naming of the children also shows the racial treatment of people at the time. For example, the white child was called Thomas Becket Driscoll while the other child’s name was Valet de Chambre (Twain 83). Roxana’s child did not have a surname, as slaves did not enjoy such privileges. An incidence involving the loss of Mr. Driscoll’s money is a clear distinction of the treatment of slaves from other people and their lack of rights and control over their lives. Masters threatened to sell them off to another person or throw them down the river, which was a worse off punishment.
Slaves lived in their master’s mercies and their destiny could be controlled at the master’s discretion. This violated basic human rights, but the law at that time did nothing to prevent their mistreatment. Roxy was concerned about the fate of her child growing up only to be sold down the river as a slave. At one point, she even thought of killing her child, as she could not imagine the pain of her child being sold as a slave. The white are treated as a superior race, and Roxy’s child only enjoyed the privileges of a white child whenever she switched the two babies.
On the other hand, Mr. Driscoll’s son got the wrath a slave because of the perception that he belonged to a slave despite being a white baby (Twain 104). The treatment of slaves and negro’s during Mr. Wilson’s time was a clear exhibition of the shortfall of the law. Laws were not clearly spelt out to outlaw activities such as discrimination of individuals due to their status in the society. The society had adopted a rather negative attitude towards the legal treatment of human beings. It was within the legal framework that slaves were traded in the town.