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Pudd'nhead Wilson | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Pudd'nhead Wilson | Chapters 9–10 | Summary



Chapter 9: Tom Practices Sycophancy

Chapter 9 begins with two aphorisms. The first says we "rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral ... because we are not the person involved." The second observes that one can find fault anywhere.

Tom meets Roxy in an abandoned house long thought to be haunted. Roxy tells Tom he is no more kin to the judge than she is. Tom is her son, and the "po' boy" Tom has been beating up is actually Tom's master. Tom refuses to believe it and threatens Roxy, but she claims to have it written down someplace safe. This threat is in fact a lie, but she knows "the person she [is] dealing with, and ... the effect [her statements] would produce." She makes him promise to call her "Mammy" and then asks how much money he has. The desperate young man says he is $300 in debt and has been stealing from neighbors while in disguise. Roxy knows he gets an allowance of $50 a month and says she will come to the haunted house each month to collect half.

She also reveals the identity of Tom's real father. He is the esteemed Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, who died the same year as Percy Driscoll.

Chapter 10: The Nymph Revealed

The first of Chapter 10's two aphorisms says it is odd people complain about dying when living is so hard. The second advises counting to four "when angry" but swearing "when very angry."

Tom now wrestles with his conscience. His world has been shattered by the notion that he is not a privileged white man, but a slave. He can't bear the sight of Chambers, whose place in life he has usurped. He can't bear to shake hands with acquaintances or eat at his family's table. He imagines the "nigger" in him "asserting its humility" and wonders if he is changing.

He doesn't change. He is as frivolous and irresponsible as ever. He finds himself even more trapped in a cycle of gambling, losing, and then stealing from neighbors and selling his booty to continue gambling. He dresses in women's clothing to do this. On the morning of the twins' visit, Tom realizes Wilson has seen him in girls' clothing and puts on a bit of a show for Wilson's benefit. Then he changes into Roxy's dark, older woman's clothing and sneaks out. He takes advantage of the arrival of the twins to do some burglaries before shedding his disguise and showing up at Patsy Cooper's reception for the twins. There he manages to pocket some more items.


Like Chapter 8, Chapters 9 and 10 catch readers up with past events. They explore a revelation that has the potential to drastically change the life of the man known as Tom Driscoll. By the end of Chapter 10, Roxy and Tom have rejoined David Wilson's timeline at the end of Chapter 7.

Confronted with his true past, Tom is so shaken that he reveals his most embarrassing secrets to Roxy. After he speaks to her respectfully and confides in her, Roxy's maternal instincts seem to reassert themselves. She promises to forget how badly he treated her and confides the identity of his father. His father was the very man the narrator told readers was unimportant: Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex. Essex's funeral, she says, was the largest ever held in Dawson's Landing. The contrast between his father's social status and Roxy's brings up questions of interbreeding, racism, and purity.

After learning his true parentage, Tom grows wary of the attention of friends and family. He seems worried they can suddenly see him for who he really is—in Twain's word, a "nigger" and his uncle's property. In this work as in his others, Twain uses the language common to the racist era in which the story is set.

On the surface it may seem that Twain has returned to the question of nature versus nurture. However, Tom's sudden feelings of inadequacy are temporary. It is therefore far more likely that Tom has become the victim of the power of suggestion. It is a well-documented psychological phenomenon that people's thoughts and behavior are influenced by their expectations. Roxy's revelation has created expectations in her son based on his new awareness of his identity and his lifelong understanding of social position.

Once he is confident he is safe in his role as Tom Driscoll, however, the young man has no trouble continuing to play the part. He is playing several parts, in fact, and one of them is that of a young girl. It is unclear whether this is merely a convenient disguise or whether Tom actually enjoys dressing up in women's clothes.

In Chapter 10 readers learn Tom secretly worships Rowena Cooper. Although David Wilson will later question Tom about his relationship with Rowena Cooper, there are no indications such a relationship actually exists. In fact, Rowena herself earlier displayed a particular interest in the Italian twins. This suggests she may not return Tom's feelings—if she is aware of them at all. It may be Tom has never been as self-confident as he seeks to appear. If that is true, it explains how suggestible he is.

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