This lesson provides profiles of the principle characters in Mark Twain’s ”Puddn’head Wilson” (1894) and gives basic details about their roles in the novel.
Pudd’nhead Wilson Characters
Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson deals with some sophisticated ideas, presents a complex plot, and features many interrelated characters. The following character profiles should help you keep track of the principle characters and their roles in the novel.
David ‘Pudd’nhead’ Wilson
A ‘young Fellow of Scotch parentage’ who has attended law school and attempts to open a practice in Dawson’s Landing. He is intelligent and ‘interested in a universe of ideas,’ but he gains a reputation as a fool when he comments on hypothetical ownership of ‘half a dog.’ His comments about the matter are philosophically sophisticated, but the townspeople think they are ridiculous, and call him ‘Pudd’nhead.’ Due to this reputation, his law practice fails, but he spends his time on his two major hobbies, collecting ‘finger marks’ and writing his almanac. He is a neighbor of Judge Driscoll, and he uses his fingerprint collection to identify the judge’s murderer.
York (Judge) Driscoll
The ‘chief citizen’ of Dawson’s Landing and a ‘formal and stately’ judge of the county court. He is also one of two freethinkers in the town. Freethinkers do not subscribe to religious dogma. Indeed, ‘To be a gentleman without stain or blemish was his only religion.’ Judge Driscoll takes custody of the child he believes is his nephew after the death of his brother, Percy. Driscoll sells ‘Tom’ down the river into slavery after he discovers that he is actually Chambers, and is therefore legally considered a slave.
Percy is the younger brother of York. He is married and had children who died. His wife dies when their next child, Tom, is born. Percy takes no interest in raising the child, leaving that to his ‘slave girl’ Roxy, who raises him alongside her own. Since he cannot tell the difference between the two children, Roxy switches them in the cradle to benefit her own. He is ‘fairly humane’ towards his slaves, but sells those who steal from him. Although he has a ‘good head for speculations,’ his ventures ultimately fail and he dies a pauper.
Roxana, or Roxy, has only one name, as slaves were often not permitted a surname. She is one-sixteenth black and appears as ‘white as anybody.’ She is the birth mother of Valet de Chambers, and she takes care of both Chambers and Percy Driscoll’s son Tom. Roxy is cunning, and she switches Chambers and Tom in the cradle, hoping to give her own son the benefits of a higher status. After she makes the switch, she finds herself acting servile to Chambers as ‘Tom.’ When Percy dies, she is freed. She moves away to find work for a while. When she returns to ask Tom for money, he denies her until she tells him the truth about his parentage.
Mentioned, but dismissed as ‘of no importance’ early in the novel, the Colonel is later revealed to be the birth father of Valet de Chambers. Like the Driscolls and Pembroke, he is among those who belong to ‘Virginia’s First Families.’
Tom ; Becket Driscoll
Son of Percy Driscoll and his wife. He is switched in the cradle with Valet de Chambers, He wears a ‘ruffled soft muslin gown and a coral necklace’ before his clothing is switched with that of Chambers. After the switch, he is raised as Chambers, which means poor treatment and abuse as the son of a slave.
Valet de Chambers
Child of Roxy and therefore a ‘negro’ by a ‘fiction of law and custom’, although his father is Colonel Essex and he too appears to be white with ‘blue eyes and flaxen curls.’ Before he is switched with Tom Driscoll most people could only tell him apart by his shabby attire: a coarse tow-linen shirt and no jewelry. Once he is raised as a Driscoll, he becomes arrogant and dishonest. He gambles away his inheritance and later murders Judge Driscoll.
Pembroke Howard is, like Judge Driscoll, a ‘gentleman according to the nicest requirements of the Virginia rule.’ He is a descendant of the ‘first families’ and a devoted Presbyterian. He is a friend and close associate of Judge Driscoll, as well as a lawyer, and he prosecutes the Capello twins for the judge’s murder.
Luigi and Angelo Capello
Luigi and Angelo Capello are twins from Italy who board at the Widow Cooper’s house. They are of noble birth, but were nevertheless enslaved by a traveling circus after the death of their parents. The two are very popular in Dawson’s Landing, and the Widow and her daughter, Rowena, exploit their popularity to increase their own. Luigi reveals that he once killed a man to save his brother’s life. Angelo corroborates this, and displays the knife that Luigi used. Angelo Keeps the elaborate knife that Luigi used to defend him, a knife that later (wrongly) implicates him in the murder of Judge Driscoll.
Referred to as both ‘Aunt Patsy’ or the ‘Widow Cooper,’ she places an ad in the newspaper for a boarder that is answered by the Capello twins.
Aunt Patsy’s daughter. She fauns over the Capello twins when they come to board with her aunt.
As we can see from these profiles, each character in Puddn’head Wilson is intertwined with the others, though sometimes in roundabout ways.