Though scholars have primarily focused study of Pudd’nhead Wilson on the novel’s messages of race and identity, Mark Twain wrote into it an examination of scientific values versus natural values. Much of the book concerns itself with the title character’s methods of detection, and in the character of Pudd’nhead Wilson the reader finds a strong critique of scientific positivism. In the employment of natural scenery for certain human action, man’s misuse of nature is criticized. Likewise, the conclusion of the novel also focuses on social manipulation of natural processes, with a pessimistic conclusion. Pudd’nhead Wilson rejects the interference of social construction and scientific interpretation in man’s experience with nature.
David “Pudd’nhead” Wilson is the symbol of science in all its shortcomings and excesses. The narrator’s attitude toward Wilson is not truculent, but it does highlight the aspects of this protanganist that are highly unflattering. The reader knows Wilson to possess “Scotch patience and pluck” (27), and he is able to solve the murder of York Driscoll. Yet, his scientific experiments are often of dubious value and his detective skill is impaired by a “remakable blindness” (Porter 163) to Tom and Roxana’s scheme. He is first introduced as a bit of a dilletante: “He had a rich abundance of idle time, but it never hung heavy on his hands, for he interested himself in every new thing that was born into the universe of ideas” (27). His interests in what he sees as science are “pet fads” (27) which both the townspeople of Dawson’s Landing and our narrator view with skepticism. In fact, most of Wilson’s ‘science’ is little more than simple observation of natural f...
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...rts the necessity of nature in human life, and tells of the sad fate of a world that blocks the influence of the natural. In the limits of Wilson’s scientific method, the reader sees that nature guides human life, and not vice versa. However, the book ominously concludes with a passage that concedes that social determinism is what the world can expect if nature is not heeded. The novel asks man to listen to the world outside of himself, or lose the chance to be free. It is thus human society’s relationship to the laws of nature as much as American slavery that is being criticized by Mark Twain in Pudd’nhead Wilson.
Porter, Carolyn. “Roxana’s Plot.” Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. Eric J. Sundquist, ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1994.
Twain, Mark. The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. 1894. New York: Signet Classic, 1964.
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