Still, a man hears what he wants to hear .
- Simon & Garfunkel, The Boxer, 1970.
Pudd'nhead Wilson & Those Extraordinary Sins.
Interpreting Mark Twain's work within our distinctly American cultural heritage has absorbed the careers of countless literary scholars. How a complete neophyte can address such issues with any hope of coherence seems beyond the realm of possibility. But, as Twain came to understand, it may be best to simply let the thoughts go where they will, trusting both the conscious and unconscious, to see where one may end up.
In an effort to limit the unencumbered rambling, I am going to focus on Twain's response to the racial issues at the heart of his American historical context, primarily through an interpretation of the novel (if it may be characterized as such) Pudd'nhead Wilson with reference to other works by Twain we have discussed in this course and multiple critical essays which have been pored over, albeit with less than completely gratifying results.
Twain is controversial primarily due to the provocative and oftentimes incendiary nature of his depiction of African Americans. For this reason most scholars interpret his work through the lens of the era in which he produced his art in an effort to comprehend the perplexing and often contradictory interpretations he presented. Simply stated, Twain's life reflects the contradictions he experienced in a country that was unable to live up to its own egalitarian rhetoric. The land of the free (except for slaves) and the home of the brave (and extremely violent and repressive) inculcated racial myths within Clemens during his antebellum childhood on the Mississippi that were slowly fractured, but never completely expunged, as he matured intellectually. .
In Hannibal, Missouri (as well as the rest of America) the romanticism of slavery and genteel white society was a charade that was best left a charade so that the civilization could operate without a catastrophic rending of the existing social fabric.