A persistent theme throughout Pudd’nhead Wilson is nature versus nature. This covers the social issues of identity and reputation in a broader sense than man versus man. Mark Twain does not lean towards one side more than the other, however. Racial distinctions are a major topic discussed in this story. This contributes to the other themes of honor and betrayal.. Mark Twain was able to discuss many complex themes in this story.
I believe that one of the most persistent themes in Pudd’nhead Wilson is nature versus nature, rather than man versus man. This is because rather than focusing on how men interact with other men, Twain asks why they act a certain way. What determines a person’s identity? What do they inherit from their surrounding environments? Tension between nature and nurture is most clearly seen in the character of Tom Driscoll. Tom was raised as a rich, spoiled kid. He eventually grows to become a lazy, untrustworthy man.
These characteristics were said to come from his inherited “slave” qualities, which shows how racial distinctions play a part in this theme. There is a beautiful, intelligent woman in Pudd’nhead Wilson named Roxy, who appears to be white. However, due to a tiny fraction of her blood being black, she is condemned to a life of slavery. But she is incredibly clever and could be very successful. The racial classification is seen through the switching of babies.
Roxy’s baby is destined to a life of slavery; while her master’s son, Tom, is guaranteed fortune and luxury his whole life. Honor and betrayal is seen specifically when Tom gets himself into trouble with gambling debts. Roxy is willing to make a huge sacrifice for her son. She offered to forfeit her freedom and to be sold back into slavery in order to raise enough money to pay off Tom’s debt. Twain portrays Roxy as an honorable woman by emphasizing on how she- a slave- is willing to sacrifice for Tom- a fortunate, dishonest man.
She asks two things of him by making this sacrifice: that she is sold up north and that he buys her back a year later. Tom expresses gratitude for his mother, but is quick to betray her. The theme of man versus man could not cover the complexity of the themes in Pudd’nhead Wilson. Nature versus nature is a major theme in the story. This includes racial distinctions and other social issues. Honor and betrayal is another theme revealed in Pudd’nhead Wilson. Twain did an excellent job at “weaving” all these themes together in this story.