Law and Slave Identity in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson Essay

3376 Words 14 Pages
Law and Slave Identity in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson What is a slave? A slave, according to many of the laws in the individual slave states during the 19th century, was an article of property, a thing, and an object not human. However, according to another, the 3/5 Compromise of 1787, a slave was worth 3/5 of a white man. The population of the Southern states was heavily African, and this compromise enabled them to count those slaves as 3/5 of a citizen in order to get more representation in Congress. What does that mean for interpretations of the law? Can a `thing' be tried for murder, or is a slave a man who has committed only 3/5 of the crime? Unfortunately, laws often have an ambiguity that allows them to be misinterpreted. In …show more content…
In particular, Twain and Stowe use the closing speeches of both Wilson and Clayton to make an attempt at defining the identity of slaves under the law and to stress the complexities of race and the slave to master relationship.

The trial at the end of Pudd'nhead Wilson takes place in Dawson's Landing, Missouri. Lawyer David Wilson, popularly known as Pudd'nhead, is defending Luigi and Angelo Capello, charged in the murder of Judge York Leicester Driscoll. Wilson chooses to use his closing speech not to assert the points that he had made through the course of the trial and remind the jury of the evidence that proves the twin's innocence, but rather to expose the guilty party. This speech begins with, "We will now proceed to find the guilty." (140) The word `guilty' is ambiguous, however, because although the trial is concerned with the murder of Judge Driscoll, Wilson's closing speech focuses on exposing Tom Driscoll as a Negro who was switched at birth. Out of nearly two pages of text enclosing Wilson's closing remarks, only about 3 sentences even mention the murder. The rest are concerned with the mistaken identities of a slave and a white gentleman. It's more likely that in this case `guilty' is being
Open Document