Study Guide

Pudd'nhead Wilson

By Mark Twain

Pudd'nhead Wilson Introduction

Psst… Want to know a secret? Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson may just be a better read than that way more famous book of his, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. According to some bigwigs in the literary world, Twain's 1894 novel is superior to Huck Finn for its honesty and should be considered "an unrecognized classic" (source).

Set in a Southern town during the years leading up to the Civil War, Pudd'nhead Wilson is all about the trouble that ensues after a slave switches the identities of her master's white baby and her own light-skinned baby. And when we say trouble, we're talking deception, betrayal, and even (gulp) murder.

Yeah, it's pretty exciting stuff.

Pudd'nhead Wilson was Twain's last major work of fiction and the book ended up making history (Of course, would we really expect anything less from Twain?). Pudd'nhead goes down in history as the first novel ever to feature the use of fingerprints to solve a crime. Who knows, maybe if Twain were around today he might be writing episodes of Law and Order or CSI!

Now, we're not suggesting you ditch your copy of Huck Finn or anything. But we do agree that you probably won't be sorry giving Pudd'nhead a chance.

What is Pudd'nhead Wilson About and Why Should I Care?

Pudd'nhead Wilson probably wouldn't have been the most popular guy in high school.

The truth is that Pudd'nhead is what some might call a nerd. For one thing, he's got all of these weird hobbies: reading palms, collecting people's fingerprints, constructing his own almanac. He's a little socially awkward, too: after making a joke that nobody gets, he becomes a complete outcast in his town.

Forced to endure teasing from the town's biggest bullies, Pudd'nhead ends up keeping to himself for the most part. Others continue to call him names and make fun of his hobbies and ambitions, but he manages to ignore them for the most part and goes on pursing the things he enjoys.

And that's probably a good thing since it just so turns out that one of his weird little hobbies is exactly what allows him to save the whole town from a murderer. As a result, Pudd'nhead goes from Town Zero to Town Hero.

Talk about revenge of the nerds.

Pudd'nhead Wilson Resources


Wilson's Website
Yep, that's right: this book is cool enough to get its very own homepage.

The Story of His Life
Check to see if you're related to Mark Twain on this timeline of his life, publications, and genealogy.

In the Mood for More Mark?
Here are three books by Twain you can read online.

Twain Talk
Entertain your friends and family with these Twain quips.

Mark's Mind Game
Take a break from reading and play this memory-building game that Twain himself created.

Movie or TV Productions

Pudd'nhead Wilson Goes to the Movies
You probably won't fall asleep during this 1916 film version of the novel—it's only 50 minutes long.

Must-See TV
Pudd'nhead, Tom, and Roxy bring their drama to the small screen in an American Playhouse TV production (1984).

Articles and Interviews

Let's Talk Twain
Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book) lights up a cigar and chats with Twain in this interview.

Nobody "Likes" Twain?
Find out why Mark Twain would be banned from Facebook if he were around today.


Home Sweet Home
Check out Twain's digs.


Have You Heard the Story of Pudd'nhead Wilson?
Sit back and listen to the audio version of Pudd'nhead Wilson.


Portrait of a Pudd'nhead
Check out the novel's original illustrations.

What a Character
Life magazine's images of Twain (they're pretty funny).