In the well-known novel, Pudd'nhead Wilson , Mark Twain depicts a plot line that openly addresses the origin of an individual's character traits and, essentially, where their innermost thoughts and desires derive from. Set during the pre-Civil War era, the novel's storyline encapsulates the life of a child born free and a child born slave - switched at birth to live each other's lives. This "child swap," made by one of the children's mothers, a slave named Roxana, allowed the African-American child to live a life fit for a Caucasian individual and, counterintuitively, destined the Caucasian child to grow up living the life of an African-American slave.

Not only does the situation in Twain's novel provide room for discussion on how an individual's childhood shapes his or her life, but draws the reader into the novel by creating an unusual and unorthodox situation for two 19th century boys. By portraying the lives of two racially-contrary individuals raised in unordinary circumstances, the book draws the reader in and, in seeing the development of their characters and attitudes, begs one to contemplate where an individual's behavior ultimately derives from...nature or nurture? Twain, in portraying the eventual outcomes of each of the boys' character, seems to assert that the nurture of an individual is the dominant catalyst.

The life of the free, Thomas a Becket Driscoll (originally known as Chambers):

From the moment the "swap" took place, it seemed the lives of the two boys were polar opposites. "Tom got all the petting, Chambers got none. Tom got all the delicacies, Chambers got mush and milk, and clabber without sugar. In consequence Tom was a sickly child and Chambers wasn't. Tom was 'fractious,' as Roxy called it, and overbearing; Chambers was meek and docile " (41). As Twain notes, Tom's life radiated as one of luxury and pampering, while Chambers lived as any African-American slave during the 19th Century was purposed to. Yet, it seems this life of luxury was a detriment to Tom, who, though being born a meek and lowly slave, grew up to be a spoiled and self-centered man. At one point in the text, Tom's poor character is displayed as he plays a rude joke on Chambers by swimming out into the river and pretending to be drowning, begging Tom to save him. Chambers, who "believed his master was in earnest...swam out, and arrived in time, unfortunately, to save his life " (43). Feeling humiliated for a slave having to save his life, he "heaped insults upon Chambers for 'pretending' to think he was earnest in calling for help, and said that nobody but a blockhead nigger would have known he was funning and left him alone " (43). Although most individuals, in having their life saved, would be both thankful and appreciative, it seems Tom's lack of character resulted in an ungrateful and resenting attitude, therefore attributing to the idea that the poor nurturing he received as a child has resulted in a poor demeanor, not a spot of "bad African-American blood."

Roxy, who sees Tom's disconcerting demeanor and poor character traits, decides that she must tell him of his true descent if she is ever to receive any kindness from him in the future. When alone, she openly admits to Tom of his heritage, as she states, "Yassir, en dat ain't all! You's a nigger - bawn a nigger en a slave!" (70). From this moment, Tom's demeanor changes, and Twain writes that "the 'nigger' in him went shrinking and sulking here and there and yonder...So strange and uncharacteristic was Tom's conduct that people noticed it, and turned to look after him when he passed..." (75). It seem that Tom, in knowing that he is of African-American descent, adopted a contrary personality as if her were, in fact, a "nigger." Yet, Twain proves nurture's ability to dominate that which nature suggests, as Tom's "opinions were totally changed...but the main structure of his character was not changed....Under the influence of a great mental and moral upheaval, his habits had taken on the appearance of complete change, but after a while with the subsidence of the storm, both began to settle toward their former places" (76). Twain continues by noting that "He dropped gradually back into his old frivolous and easygoing ways and conditions of feeling and manner of speech" (76). This provides further evidence that Tom, even upon the unmasking of his true identity, still reverts back to the mannerisms and characteristics that his upbringing (nurture) taught him to depict. Nurture, essentially, has dominated over the true nature, or racial background, of Tom's being.


The life of the slave, Valet de Chambre (originally known as Tom):

As previously stated, Chambers' life was one of humble means; as a slave he expected nothing and was given nothing just the same. Yet, this form of neglect led this so-called African-American boy, who was secretly white, to become a self-sufficient and healthy child, as Twain states that "Tom was sickly, and Chambers wasn't" (41). Although Chambers was, in fact, born a Caucasian individual, the disciplined and stern form of nurture he received growing up instilled a sense of strength in Chambers; a strength that was not endowed simply from his white bloodline. Twain even asserts that "Chambers was strong beyond his years, and a good fighter; strong because he was coarsely fed and hard worked about the house, and a good fighter because Tom furnished him plenty of practice..." (42). By attributing Chamber's strength to the conduct of his daily living, Twain is simply further depicting the life of an individual who, in all aspects, can reference the very core of his being to the type of nurture performed on him from a young age, instead of the ancestry which he should rightly claim.

At the end of the novel, Twain truly encapsulates his stance on what he believes behaviorism is attributed to. Pudd'nhead Wilson, through use of fingerprinting, has unmasked the true identity of both Tom and Chambers in a courtroom battle, shocking the inhabitants of Dawson's Landing. After Tom, found guilty of murder, is sentenced to bring sold down the river into the slavery he both logically and morally deserves, Chambers is inducted into the world to which he was initially born - the world white individuals. Yet, Twain notes that, in spite of Chambers official induction and realization that he is of Caucasian descendants, he still behaves in the manner which he was raised to portray; that is, the behaviorism of an African-American individual. Twain writes, "The real heir suddenly found himself rich and free, but in a most embarrassing situation. He could neither read nor write, and his speech was the basest dialect of the Negro quarter. His gait, his attitudes, his gestures, his bearing, his laugh - were all vulgar and uncouth; his manners were the manners of a slave. Money and fine clothes could not mend the defects or cover them up; they only made them the more glaring and more pathetic" (166). In spite of the bloodline which Chambers was rightfully linked to, he was incapable of acting in a manner contrary to that which he was raised. Essentially, he was a white man by nature, but carried the mannerisms of a slave, thus proving that Twain is asserting, above all, nurture prevails to become a person's instinctive state.


Twain's use of Roxy:

Twain also uses Tom's mother, Roxy, to solidify the idea that, while an individual may be strongly-rooted in an African-American bloodline, it does not determine that their innate behavior will reflect that. When introducing Roxy to the reader, Twain notes that "Only one sixteenth of her was black; and that sixteenth did not show. She was of majestic form and stature, her attitudes were imposing and statuesque, and her gestures and movements were distinguished by a noble and stately grace...To all intents and purposes Roxy was as white as anybody, but he one sixteenth of her which was black outvoted the other fifteen parts that made her a Negro" (29). Essentially, Twain uses this passage to portray that, while Roxy is clearly of African-American descent, her mannerisms do not portray such. Her natural tendencies are that of a white individual, and if it were not for the social expectations that were present during her time, she would be easily referred to as a member of the "white class." It seems, once again, Twain overrides the assertion that nature is the key instigator of behavior by advocating that an individual's background and upbringing, or nurture, determines mannerisms.