Law And Slave Identity In Dred And Pudd'nhead Wilson

3331 words - 13 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 the case of American slave laws, the ambiguity was such that the identity of the slave could be misinterpreted or even manipulated to serve unjust social practices.

Furthermore, one of the interpretations of the slave's identity is as a child under the guardianship of the slave master. If this translation were correct, however, the slave should have the right of protection under the law. But as said before, state law claims that a slave is a thing and therefore warrants no protection. The laws of slavery in the 19th century were ambiguous to the point that no one legal definition of a slave or a slave's rights could be made according to the law. Both Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain experimented with this ambiguity of identity and the laws surrounding it in their novels Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson.

The lawyers in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson are Edward Clayton and David (Pudd'nhead) Wilson. Both of these lawyers are given the opportunity to interpret the identity of the slave during trials, which Stowe and Twain included in each work. Although the trials were very different, Clayton arguing on behalf of a black woman who was assaulted by her hiring slave master, and Wilson defending two Italian twins charged of murder, both become interested with the identity of the slave and the rights thereof because Negro slaves are involved in both of the crimes. 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...

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