Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

E. Victor Bobb


Varying concepts of law are an essential part in many of Mark Twain's works. Twain's position as an observer and critic of society is often reflected by the way he represents law and justice in his stories. His dislike of injustice and cruelty caused him to focus on these "legal" problems as a way of revealing and attacking various injustices in society. My thesis examines Twain's perception of law as he exposes it in Roughing It, Pudd'nhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The general objective of my study is to examine Twain's philosophy of law and how his ideas are reflected in his literature. The specific aim of study is to explore Twain's tendency to present law and politics with multiple views which sometimes suffer from seeming to embody contradictory opinions.

The first half of my study examines Twain's view of American frontier law by centering on Roughing It and Pudd'nhead Wilson. Roughing It exhibits Twain's early views of lawlessness in the west and includes his suggestions for a commonsense approach to law. The areas of law covered include: desperadoism, juries, and government. Twain's approach to these subjects frequently oscillates between criticizing the lack of law and finding fault with established, but poorly administered law.

Pudd'nhead Wilson continues Twain's critical approach to law and justice with the location changing to the antebellum southwest. The regimented code of law in this novel fails to secure justice because it suffers from existing within the framework of slavery, which is supported by antebellum aristocractic privileges and traditions. Pudd'nhead Wilson demonstrates how traditionally entrenched laws and customs prove unyielding even to creative and innovative methods (fingerprinting and crime detection) for securing justice. The pessimism concerning law in this novel differs from Roughing It's tone of youthful speculations and suggestions for law in a new frontier.

The second half of my study examines Twain's political comparison of democracy to monarchy and despotic rule. The Prince and the Pauper and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court reveal many of Twain's thoughts concerning justice and government. His criticisms of the appalling injustices in these supposedly outworn and alien systems suggests the inherent injustice in law and government, not merely historically, but even in Twain's nineteenth century America. Twain examines man's inability to find solutions to injustice and inefficient government, and Twain's moral outrage often results in multiple and contradictory presentations. Democracy and technology in A Connecticut Yankee initially appear to be solutions for oppressed people, but the inability of the common man to accept and use these innovations properly, ultimately results in failure and destruction in the novel's ending. Twain's inability to envision or propose a consistent system for securing justice reveals his changeable and unresolved approach to the difficult issues of law, government and justice.