Wiki on Pudd’nhead Wilson

Mark Twain Removing a Mask.

Check out my new wiki page on Pudd’nhead Wilson.  You will find analysis of how and why Twain chose to use the detective theme in the novel.

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Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Degradation

Frances Harper posing.

One aspect of Iola Leroy, by Frances E.W. Harper, that caught my attention was the assertion that violence, unfair treatment, and domination by the whites against the blacks degrades both.  She has Iola speak to this effect: “A people cannot habitually trample on law and justice without retrograding towards barbarism” (406).  Later, Harper’s minister, Reverend Carmicle says, “You cannot willfully deprive the negro of a single right as a citizen without sending demoralization through your own [white] ranks” (412).  This theme is persistent throughout the novel, and illustrated by the failure or rebuttal of all those characters who fail to treat every individual as worthy of respect. Even the kindDr. Gresham’s request that Iola forget her “drop” of colored blood results in the failure of his courtship.  To deny Iola the identity that she assumed, was an infringement of her rights and lowered his standing.  In contrast, Dr. Latimer embraces both his and Iola’s racial histories and succeeds admirably in his pursuit of Iola, with her regarding him as admirable above all other men.  Perhaps the most obvious of the results of mutual degradation, are the slave owners like Mr. Gundover.  Most of them are subject to death, and the remaining fall into poor health and shadow existences.

Reading this novel really does make me wish that Harper’s contemporaries had heeded her words of warning and realized that maltreatment of other is also maltreatment of self.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 10:29 pm  Comments (3)  
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Wild Women

Mexican Senorita

"... for the love of a woman is beautiful at all times, whether she smiles under gilded canopies in her satin garments or weeps over a world-hated criminal alone and naked in the desert."

The women in John Rollin Ridge’s folkloric novel, Joaquin Murieta, do not sit idly by as the male banditos partake of all the adventure.  Ridge includes women in the novel as motivational, tempering, and even deadly forces.

Joaquin Murieta’s murderous spree across 1850’s California was initiated by the “ravishing” of his mistress, Rosita, at the hands of Americans.  This act is an ultimate affront to Joaquin as he not only loves his mistress, but also sees the respect of women as a mark of nobility and humanity.  Joaquin’s views on the treatment of women are further reinforced when one of Joaquin’s henchmen abducts a beautiful woman.  Joaquin’s rage over the barbarous abduction of the woman is abated when he learns that the man has gone to great lengths to preserve the woman’s chastity.   Joaquin’s response to the abduction of the woman is used by Ridge to make the bandit seem more noble, civilized, and respectable.

Women in the novel attain most of their goals through subtlety and feminine charms.  Most notably, one woman, Margarita, gains freedom from her abusive drunkard of a husband by murdering him.  But even this murder is done in a feminine manner; she drops hot lead in his ear while he sleeps and the death is attributed to too much liquor.  There is none of the gore and violence that tends to accompany murders committed by the males in the novel.  Margarita then provides such a display of grief that she is not even suspected in the mysterious death.  This short aside from Joaquin’s story seems in place only to enhance Ridge’s point that women are powerful and should not be treated poorly.

Other than the murderous Margarita, most of the women are sources of aid and support for the men of the novel.  They ride with their men, dress in men’s clothing, and nurse the wounded.  They are as hardy as the men themselves.  There are exceptions to this rule though.  The “American” female, Rosalie, stands in stark contrast to the capable Mexican women.  She is the woman, I mentioned earlier, who is abducted by one of Joaquin’s henchmen.  It seems that she cannot even stay conscious when faced with the slightest shock or adversity.

Why do you think that Ridge singled out Rosalie to be such a shrinking violet amid the thorned roses of Mexico?

~Ruth Nelson

Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 12:19 am  Comments (2)  
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Three Little Words

Je Vous Aime

Zenobia and Miles in my version.

Today, a friend asked me what I was engrossed in reading.  “The Blithedale Romance,” I replied.

“Oooh, sounds sexy!”

“Yeah, not so much.”

Despite it’s rampant sexual innuendo, The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne,  is remarkably devoid of consummation.  But this is true for almost every action of the characters in the novel, and not just in their relationships.  Not only are the characters incapable of fulfilling the oft-hinted at sexual relationships, they are also impotent in producing a communal life.  Even though all of the characters are brought together with a vague idea of creating a Utopian society, none of them seem to display any true passion towards that goal.  Miles, the lethargic idealist, seems to see the communal society as a source of hope.  But he lacks the drive to make this hope a reality, and simply dreams of what may be rather than make it happen.  Priscilla is little more than a lost puppy to be dragged around and dressed up.  While Zenobia is more passionate about women’s rights than socialist utopia.  Hollingsworth, the most driven of the group, is more bent on capturing the property and work of the community to use for his own philanthropic purposes than realizing a perfect communal society.  In this sense, the novel is much more about relationships between the characters than a critique of communal life (in contrast to Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats).

The two characters that show the most passion in the novel, Hollingsworth and Zenobia, both meet with tragic ends.  Her shattered heart leads Zenobia to a watery grave and Hollingsworth’s to a life crushed by remorse.  All of this takes place while our narrator, Miles Coverdale, watches with the passive air of a National Geographic journalist.  He carefully catalogs Zenobia’s many physical allures and yet, inexplicably, remains immune to their power.  Ever a Disney-ending lover, I can’t help but wish that Coverdale might have lured Zenobia from Hollingsworth and prevented the tragic ending for all.

What do you think?  Could/should Coverdale have saved Zenobia?

~Ruth Nelson

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 3:36 am  Comments (3)  
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