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The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson is one of Mark Twains most thorough examinations of the institution of slavery and the superficiality of racial prejudice It was written during an era when Jim Crow segregation was spreading throughout the South and was published two years before the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of segregation in Plessy v Ferguson on May 18 1896 In June of 1892 Homer Plessy violated the Louisiana law mandating segregation in railroad cars as part of a challenge to the constitutionality of segregation mounted by the African American community in New Orleans Plessy was only one-eighth African and his case involved not only segregation but the related issue of how racial distinctions are defined Where was the color line drawn How could the laws be enforced if they were to be applied to someone like Plessy who was not visibly colored In The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson which was separated from his earlier work on Those Extraordinary Twins in December of 1892 Mark Twain examines the issues of racial identity by tracing the life stories of White and Black children switched at birth Roxy is one-sixteenth African and like Plessy could easily pass for white Her son switched at birth with a white child is accepted as white while the other is treated as a slave As the children grow it is not their races but their circumstances conditioning and training that determine their behaviors and positions in society -- an argument Twain developed more broadly in What Is Man The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson grew out of and was published together with Those Extraordinary Twins and this guide includes links to resources related to both novels
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