Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
An interesting feature of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson is the use of disguise and deception. The basis of much of the novels' actions concerns people who, for varied reasons, set out to fool other people. Other individuals or groups of people are self-deceived.
Motivations for the deception vary. Some entail selfless concerns of protecting a loved one. Some illustrate desires to maintain one's own safety and well-being. Still others involve negative, base qualities such as greed, lust for power or glory, revenge, or a false sense of tradition.
In Twain's earliest novel, The Prince and the Pauper, the main deception occurs when two boys, curious about each other's lifestyles and desirous to be rid of their seemingly confining existences, change places. Though neither can completely adjust to his new mode of life, because of the reversal-deception the prince becomes initiated into the injustices thrust upon the poor. So when he is reinstated as royalty, he demonstrates a humane kindness to such unfortunate victims. The pauper learns of the burdens of power. Thus, the deception serves to enlighten the participants and render them more capable of understanding their fellow men. Other deceptions in the novel include a greed-based one perpetrated by Hugh Hendon and a self-preservative one, dealing with thieves forced to wear foreign garments so they will not be detected and imprisoned for their poverty.
In Huckleberry Finn deceit can be seen in Huck, who wears various disguises and dons different names in order to protect either himself or Jim. Deception is depicted in the pseudo-royal duke and king, who swindle townsfolk and ultimately sell the black man for forty dollars. A striking deception is displayed by the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. Their outward gentility masks an inner corruption and brutality based on an irrational belief in tradition. Huck's companion, Tom Sawyer, exemplifies a person self-deceived. His unfeeling attitude toward Jim, whose life he playfully puts in danger, comes from a glory-seeking mind which can no longer distinguish fact from fiction.
In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Hank Morgan's personality contains a mixture of deceptions. First he prevaricates and produces the eclipse "miracle" in order to preserve his own life. As time passes, he becomes more interested in maintaining the deception of being "Boss" in order to heighten his power. Ultimately in conceiving that his nineteenth-century technology will overrule the Arthurians' superstitions, he is self-deceived. Other deceptions in the work include the facade of the knights in shining armor and Arthur's wearing of peasant attire. In the latter the king, unlike the prince and the pauper, seems relatively unaffected by the plight of the poor.
In the last novel examined, Pudd'nhead Wilson, there is a reversal in identities between Tom Driscoll and Valet de Chambre. But unlike the switch in The Prince and the Pauper, this reversal is long-termed and is done without the knowledge of the ones involved. No insightful awareness or understanding comes as a result of the revelation of the two young men's true identities. Rather, a totally negative sense of injustice reigns. Roxy, the instigator of the deception, acts mainly out of selfless motives but is finally self-deceived nonetheless. Her son employs various disguises to hide his greed. Like the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, the townsfolk of Dawson's Landing wear a giant mask of respectability under which lurks corruption. Pudd'nhead Wilson must suffer from the denizens' placing of a "disguise" upon him as the town dunce. But unfortunately he lives up to the role.
In the first three novels there seems to be some wee small cry of hope for man to escape from the negative disguises and deceptions which surround him. In the last novel, however, no candle lights the way to human understanding and sympathy.
Smith, Kay L., "From Selflessness to Selfishness: Various Types of Deception in Four of Twain's Novels" (1979). Masters Theses. 3171.
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