Pudd'nhead Wilson | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Pudd'nhead Wilson | Chapters 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5: The Twins Thrill Dawson's Landing

Chapter 5 opens with two of Puddn'head's aphorisms. The first says training is everything, while the second is about upstarts, or "toadstools that think they are truffles." (Toadstools are a mushroom-like fungus that can't be eaten, while truffles are an edible fungus considered a delicacy.)

Time passes without any major incidents. The arrogant Tom Driscoll is sent to Yale University, but he only stays for two years before coming home. He has learned some things at school, however; mainly how to drink and how to gamble. He has trouble readjusting to small-town life in Dawson's Landing, so he spends a good deal of time in St. Louis, north of Dawson's Landing.

David Wilson and Judge Driscoll form a Society of Free-thinkers. Although the judge is Wilson's biggest advocate, Wilson's nickname still affects the public's view of him. That is not helped by another of his hobbies, creating a calendar highlighted with his "little dab of ... philosophy," or humorous sayings. The judge spreads these aphorisms around town, but they only confirm people's original opinion of Pudd'nhead Wilson.

But things are about to change in Dawson's Landing. The widow Patsy Cooper has a large room to let for a boarder that has been vacant for a year. She receives a letter from two Italian twins, Luigi and Angelo Capello, who wish to rent the room for twice the asking price. Her daughter, a young woman described as "romantic, amiable, and very pretty, but otherwise of no consequence," gushes over the "grand and foreign" names. The entire town is primed with excitement when the two young men arrive one stormy night.

Chapter 6: Swimming in Glory

Two aphorisms open Chapter 6. The first says people should live so well that "when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." The second says habits are difficult to break.

Luigi and Angelo tell Patsy and Rowena Cooper the story of their lives. Their family was from Florence, Italy. The family fortune was lost during wartime, and their parents died shortly after. The young lads, talented musically, became a museum and carnival act before they could escape their debtors. They have traveled the world and now have come to America. The Coopers bask in the glory of their distinguished guests as townspeople line up to personally welcome them to Dawson's Landing. Patsy introduces them as "Count" Luigi and Angelo Capello, and Rowena's heart overflows with happiness when they play a four-handed piece on the piano.

Analysis

Chapter 5 moves the story of Chambers and Tom several years forward. The young man known as Tom has shown he does not have a talent for learning. When taken together with the two aphorisms at the beginning of the chapter, this leads readers to contemplate the question of nature versus nurture. This is a long-standing question that continues to interest science. What determines a person's character, talents, and physical condition? Is it purely a matter of inherited traits (nature), or is it the result of the influences of the people and events in their lives (nurture)? Chambers and Tom are Twain's guinea pigs as he considers this issue. When Tom goes to Yale, one of the foremost universities in the country, he gains neither knowledge nor wisdom. Nature triumphs over nurture. Yet in other ways, nurture seems to have influenced him more. A good example is his belief in his own superiority over Roxy and Chambers.

Chapter 5 also introduces two characters who will prove to be important in all the characters' lives: the Italian twins. When the twins arrive in Chapter 6, the town is beside itself with excitement. And while the two young men seem pleasant enough and can play a four-handed piece on the piano, modern readers may wonder what the fuss is about. The excitement actually reflects Twain's original intentions for the novel.

Mark Twain began Pudd'nhead Wilson with the idea that he would incorporate the story of conjoined or "Siamese" Italian twins, a pair of whom were touring the United States in 1891. But as he expanded the story and added new characters, the story of the Siamese twins was dropped. Twain's manuscript with the Siamese twins remained, however, and was included in the first book edition of Pudd'nhead Wilson in the United States, which was titled Pudd'nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins.

Thus, the twins, separated, remain in the current version of the novel. "One was a little fairer than the other, but otherwise they were exact duplicates," Twain writes, but that is not true at all. They are actually very different in appearance, and while dark-haired Luigi takes the role as the lead twin, fair-haired Angelo remains somewhat quiet and in the background. Their portrayal in the book is somewhat disappointing because it does not explain their extreme notoriety. Still, Dawson's Landing is a small, provincial American town. So the arrival of handsome, sophisticated twins from Europe is guaranteed to create a stir. Moreover, the twins can play the piano and keep everyone entertained with stories from their eventful lives. These two young gentlemen appear to present a very different image to Tom. However, just as their apparent similarities are misleading, so—as readers will discover—is their apparent gentility.

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