email icon Email   printer icon PDF


Double Trouble, Charade, Hypocrisy, Ambiguity and Clarity

Links Editor-in-Chief

Mark Twain's The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, is a book obsessed with twins and twin notions. He originally wanted to write about Siamese twins "joined together" but he ended up splitting them into two people. These two autonomous selves, echoes, mirror images, pairs or doubles if you will can be connected or linked to something else, linked in their origin, from birth. Think of Twain's name. Think about Huck when he disguises himself as a girl or as Tom Sawyer. How about another one of Twain's books, The Prince and the Pauper, where two children only look alike but are socially different, then exchange them which gives us a great recipe for drama, satire or irony. They know they're not the other but no one else does. The prince learns what it's like to be a pauper and vice versa.

In epic stories, folklore and throughout history twins are considered unstable. They destabilize the sense of integrity of one, because as a pair they become whole. Twins as distinct individuals can create murkiness, ambiguity and lack of clarity and, as a result, some tribal cultures put one to death so there would be no fooling. Recall the great stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Castor and Pollux in the constellation of Gemini. And of course there is Romulus and Remus with the founding of Rome. Imagine had Remus survived we may have had the Remen Empire. Let's not forget Leornado DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask. Getting rid of one of these doubles, shadows or anything that complicates our senses may be an act of clarification.

Sam and Eric or Samneric from Lord of the Flies are "so in sync that they breathe together" but cannot function as individuals. Lewis Carroll's Tweedledee and Tweedledum who fight all the time finish each other's sentences. Even Shakespeare provided us with Viola and Sebastian in the Twelfth Night. While the identical twin girls from The Shining creeped us out when they said "come play with us Danny," we experienced the extreme comedy from the unlikely twins of Arnold Schwarznagger and Danny DeVito in Twins and comic relief from George and Fred Weasley in Harry Potter.

Steering from twin siblings and more to the self are the doppelgangers, the split self, ego and id found in gothic writings. Consider reading Two Centuries Later and Still Alive with the divided self and double struggles of Edgar Allan Poe in the January Issue of the Links 2012. There is Jekyll and Hyde, Jonathan Harker and Dracula, and Frankenstein and his Creation. It is these dark doubles or any double in the many great literary works that allow us to explore uncomfortable boundaries. Splitting pairs into extremes gives us clarity. Examples of clear polarities include: day-night, land-sea, man-woman, good-evil, right-wrong, rich-poor, nature-nurture, genetic-environment and life-death. What about healthcare and the ISHLT? Transplant-not transplant, device-no device, device-transplant, rejection-infection and steroids-no steroids, just to name a few. Now back to Twain and what is he teaching us with Pudd'nhead Wilson. He wants us to think about Man-woman, lady-whore, gentleman-scoundrel, black-white and master-slave, after all it is Black History month.

To better appreciate this book, we must stand in the shoes of mid 19th Century American culture with this notion from Twain. He wrote the following response to the glowing review of Roughing It: "I am as uplifted and reassured by it as a mother who has given birth to a white baby when she was awfully afraid it was going to be a mulatto." Here's a woman who has had sex with several men at least one white and one black or mulatto. Has Twain introduced us to racism? No. Desegregation and mixing? Yes. Twain is well aware of Harriet Beechers Stowe's, Uncle Tom's Cabin where there are clear examples of polarities that go unnoticed by the innocence of children. Stowe pairs little Eva, the white little angel of the text, with little Topsy, the black rascal of the text. The color of their skin doesn't matter to these children but take note of the following passage by Stowe:

There stood the two children, representatives of the two extremes of society, the fair, high-bred child with her golden head, her deep eyes, her spiritual, noble brow and prince-like movements; and her black, keen, subtle, cringing yet acute neighbor. They stood the representatives of their races. The Saxon, born of ages of cultivation, command, education, physical and moral imminence; the Afric, born of ages of oppression, submission, ignorance, toil and vice!

These notions are not just pairings of individuals but enrich the real meaning of pairs, best understood at extremes but somewhat veiled in a charade. A charade brought about by bias, culture, environmental influences and societal expectations. American society, medical society, the ISHLT society and probably all or our institutions as well as our personal behaviors have some biases or cultural preferences. It is our own Roger Evans who has made us beware of "homosociality" in the Problems and Pitfalls of Recruitment: Part II from the December Issue of the Links 2012.

Can we without bias or prejudice recognize concepts no longer regarded as tenable in the 21st century, such as ideas of in the mid 19th century about social order in America black vs white or master vs slave? The fugitive slave act inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Civil War gave double trouble to Lincoln. He struggle with the twins of black and white, master and slave. Take note of his letter to Horace Greeley:

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.

The Emancipation Proclamation turned the war from preserving the Union to freeing the Slaves. But this was only the beginning. America had to go through its own enlightenment after the Civil War. It was Immanuel Kant, who characterized enlightenment as the awakening to a realization that humans have created realms separate from ourselves on which we then have become dependent. He also said that enlightenment further involves having the courage to discern this and act on it by getting rid of this self-imposed dependency. With that said, it is too easy for us to impose present standards onto the past, where the present standards do not belong. This will bias our understanding of the past. This is where Twain helps us. Think of A Connecticut in King Arthur's Court. Now we have The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson.

The lives of the white citizens in this novel are defined by hypocrisy, prejudices and moral failure. The landscape is haunted by the sins of the white fathers. The white and aristocratic patriarch, Percy Driscoll, writes in his diary about his noble gesture of caring for his slaves so his son might read his diary and learn to respect all including slaves with dignity and respect. But with true Twainian ironic twists, his son will never be able to read this novel because he grows up illiterate because he grows up as a slave. Then, there is Roxy. A slave in the Percy Driscoll's household. She is mulatto. She is 1/16th black and it does not show. But because of stereotypical assumptions, this drop of "black blood" defines her as black. She has a child sired by a white man. This child is 1/32nd black and by custom, he is black. Percy's wife has a child at the same time, but she dies. So Roxy raises both children who look alike. The next ironic twist is when Roxy switches the babies. She does this because she's afraid her son will be sold down the river. In the end, he is sold down the river. Percy could not tell these children apart except for the clothes they're wearing. What Twain is teaching us is that rank and class does not make any difference. They are equally human. Now you have a spectacular plot of nature vs nurture.

Now, Roxy who is conditioned by the white, slave owning aristocratic culture is the only one who knows which child is which. She becomes the mammy of her own "black" son and raises him as the white upper class son of Percy. She raises Percy's "white" son as her own son—a slave.

So what's the tragedy all about. David Wilson is labeled a Pudd'nhead early on in the book. He is an outsider from upstate New York who moves into this small town below St Louis along the Mississippi River. He sees no difference in black or white, especially these two children who are both beautiful and look alike. 20 years later, Pudd'nhead becomes the hero in the famous courtroom scene when he reveals the real murderer, proves the switch of these two children from 20 years earlier through "natal signatures" by the new scientific technology of fingerprinting. Today we have DNA fingerprinting. Again, what is so tragic of Wilson's success from dolt to hero? Well, he is an outsider who becomes an insider who is forced to adopt the prejudices of this town. He has been corrupted even though this "white-washed" town declares him the town's hero. The ambiguities throughout this book are cleared up in the end by this open and shut case. It is as clear as black and white. These are the ultimate ironies.

America's twins are black and white. They were there at its origin as master and slave. There was liberation, and now today, black and white are here as their autonomous selves with all the human dignity, freedom and freedom of choices expected in order to have the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Late 20th century and early 20th century America's cinema has given us the great pairings in the following movies: Brian's Song, Rocky, Lethal Weapon, Men in Black, Shawshank Redemption, Rush Hour, and Bodyguard, just to name a few. Hollywood has not stopped at just the binary of black and white, it has extended into multiculturalism. And to end with a few words from the great Martin Luther King Jr, "... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

In the ISHLT it must be instilled in our character to make the right decisions when confronted with the multitudes of pairings regardless of race or culture: transplant or not, device or not, transplant or device, and life or death.

This is just a tip of the white iceberg, or was it a black iceberg.

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.