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Pudd'nhead Wilson | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Pudd'nhead Wilson | Chapters 13–14 | Summary



Chapter 13: Tom Stares at Ruin

Chapter 13 opens with two aphorisms. One says knowing how many "disagreeable people" are in heaven makes a person want to avoid going there. The other warns every month is a bad month to dabble in the stock market.

Dispirited at being disinherited once again, Tom makes his way to Wilson's house. He tells Wilson that Judge Driscoll is angry at him for suing Luigi instead of fighting a duel. The judge is also upset because someone has stolen his silver watch. Wilson notes there have been a number of thefts in town. He and Tom are soon joined by Justice Robinson, John Buckstone, and the town's constable, Jim Blake. Blake says the search for the thief has shifted focus. He is now looking for an older woman shrouded in black mourning clothes. She has stolen quite a few pieces of value, but Wilson observes that it will be hard for her to pawn Luigi's bejeweled knife, which is among the items reported stolen. A large reward has been offered for the knife and the capture of the thief. Wilson is sure a pawnbroker will turn in the suspect before long. This news upsets Tom, whose face has gone a "gray-green color." He is the thief. Now he is stuck with the valuable knife, which he hoped to pawn to pay his substantial gambling debts.

Meanwhile, Justice Robinson, Blackstone, and Blake announce the real intention of their visit: to ask Wilson to run as the Democratic candidate for mayor. Wilson's emergence as a lawyer— even though his defense of Luigi was unsuccessful—has begun Wilson's long-delayed rise as an important citizen of the town. Wilson agrees to run.

Chapter 14: Roxana Insists upon Reform

Chapter 14's aphorism praises the taste of a southern watermelon.

As the judge prepares for his duel with Luigi, he ponders his possible demise. He secretly draws up a new will, again making Tom—"his ostensible nephew"—his heir. After the judge and Pembroke Howard leave, Tom finds and reads the will. Relieved and grateful, he decides to mend his ways. But remembering he still has his gambling debts puts him in a panic again.

Tom goes to meet Roxy. On the way he hears some distant gunshots, but thinks nothing of it. It is Roxy who tells him the judge has been in a duel with Luigi. She is as upset as the judge that Tom didn't challenge Luigi himself. "You has disgraced yo' birth," she tells him. "What would yo' pa think o' you?" She tells him it's the 1/32nd of him that is "nigger" that causes his disgraceful behavior. Roxy, who was nicked by a ricochet, then reveals she secretly observed the duel and tells Tom that the judge and Luigi were only slightly wounded. Tom says the judge has reinstated him again. Roxy instructs him to go to St. Louis and make a deal with his creditors to pay them in installments. Then, he must change his behavior, she says, or risk being disowned permanently. No more stealing, no more drinking, and no more gambling—or she will reveal his true heritage. Tom vows he is reformed.


Chapters 13 and 14 offer further insight into the young man known as Tom and his mother, Roxy. Readers also get to see a very human side of Judge Driscoll.

Roxy exhibits an odd pride in her son's pedigree as being 31 parts white. She is as mortified as Judge Driscoll that Tom did not challenge Luigi Capello to a duel. She is also proud to have watched the duel, even though a bullet nicked her nose. Although she is in the background, Roxy is confident she has claimed her rightful position as Tom's mother. Still, until he comes clean, she does not know how low his moral character has sunk.

As a character, Roxy has an odd moral compass. She is somewhat like the character widely considered Twain's greatest creation: Huck of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Huck, a white boy, struggles with his impulse to help the escaped slave Jim and finally declares he'll accept going to hell as punishment for assisting Jim. Roxy, similarly, commits an act considered wrong by society when she switches the boys. However, readers can see the fineness in her character when she tells her son to straighten up or she will tell the judge he is really a slave. Like Huck she is willing to "go to hell"—for her role in the swap would surely bring swift punishment—in order to do what she knows is right.

Tom is a different matter. Even though he vows to himself and his mother he will stop his illegal and amoral behaviors, his motivation is not pure. His decision stems from fear rather than repentance. Tom wants to ensure he will inherit his family's wealth and to avoid anyone learning his true identity. In fact, he is so hard-hearted he briefly rejoices to think the judge may have been killed in the duel, thus solving Tom's financial woes. Nevertheless, readers may still feel some sympathy for Tom. He appears to be lonely. When he learns about the judge's new will, his first instinct is to share the knowledge with someone who could be a friend—Pudd'nhead Wilson. Deciding secrecy is better, he only shares the information with Roxy. Although Roxy is his mother, her friendship is tainted by her repeated threat to tell people about his parentage.

Judge Driscoll—unaware of Tom's cold-hearted, self-centered nature or his true identity—shows very paternal feelings for the young man. He acknowledges his responsibility to his brother to take care of Tom and shows concern for the young man's future. While he recognizes Tom's faults, he also recognizes his own responsibility for them. "He is worthless and unworthy," he says, "but it is largely my fault ... I have indulged him to his hurt, instead of training him up severely." This suggests the judge believes nurture is more influential than nature in shaping character. (His opinion contrasts sharply with Roxy's. She attributes Tom's character flaws to nature—especially to the African 1/32nd of his genetic makeup—and not to nurture.)

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