Nature vs. Nurture

By: Dane Dezellem and Chelsea Newman

What determines a person's innate qualities as addressed by William Dean Howells' An Imperative Duty, and Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson.

I can hear it in her voice at times—it’s a black voice! I can see it in her looks! I can feel it in her character—so easy, so irresponsible, so fond of what is soft and pleasant!” (Howells 73)

The previous quote, written by William Dean Howells in An Imperative Duty, is depicting an outsider's perspective of a person who has been nurtured as a white individual in every sense. In suggesting this girl has a "black voice," in spite of her upbringing, is suggesting that by nature the girl is of African-American dissent, as is simply reverting back to her natural mannerisms. By making this statement, Howells supports the claim that nature plays a more significant role than nurture when deciding what determines an individual's innate qualities.

On the contrary, Mark Twain, through his narrative, Pudd'nhead Wilson, asserts that although one's original descent is difficult to overcome by societal standards, it is the nurture a person receives throughout childhood that dictates their characteristics and mannerisms, as depicted in this quote:

"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" (Twain 41).

William Dean Howells
Mark Twain