Friday, March 12, 2010

Name game: Identity

One thing that was a major theme in both Iola Leroy and Puddn'head Wilson were the character's names and how they helped define the individual's identity. Take David Wilson for example. He is labeled right off the start as a "Puddn'head" and retains that nickname almost all the way to the end of the book. Only Roxy realized that he was not a puddn'head at all. By the end of the book when he uncovers the real assasin and frees the twins from their unfair arrest, the rest of the town says "he isn't a Puddn'head, we are the puddn'heads!" I wondered why the book was called Puddn'head Wilson, because while Wilson does play an important part, we never know much about him or what he is thinking. The story mainy revolves around Tom and Roxy and their motivations and feelings and actions. So I realized that Twain was putting a focus on mistaken identity. Puddn'head was improperly named, and that opens up the door to see who else was improperly named (or who took on an improper identity). And we see this with almost every character in some way. Obviously Tom and Chambers are switched and that screws with everything both of them understand growing up and messes up their sense of self when they learn about the switches. Roxy also takes on the role as servant to her true son, and is a possibly negligent "mother" to her master. She is never truely a mother because when Tom finds out about her he acts as her beneficiary, providing for her; and she encourages his unlawful activity. The judge has the role of father to someone that is not only his son, but not even related to him. The twins are immediately treated with reverie when they come to town just because their names are foreign. In Iola Leroy, Iola's refusal to deny her black family shows a loyalty to the name. Rather than tell people she is fully white, she always reveals her blood and it puts her in sad situations. There are such strong emphasis on names in these novels. It shows what a struggle identity was for people to understand.

1 comment:

  1. Good point, Allie: we're "mistaken" (because of the title) in the centrality of Pudd'nhead Wilson to the book. Establishing dentity is the central conflict in this book, as you say.