Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Michelle Sizemore

Abstract

This thesis examines how Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson does much more than simply bridge the recurring racial and cultural behaviors of the antebellum South with the reality of late-19th century America; instead, I argue that Twain’s novella acts as a performative text, participating in a dialogue with a number of cultural forces—literature, theatre, politics, and commercialism—as a way of commenting on popular conceptualizations of late-nineteenth century social progress. Using the critical perspective of Performance Studies, it is clear that Twain’s novel is demonstrating how nineteenth century America used certain sets of symbols and signs to perform race, ultimately critiquing the arbitrary nature of these signs and identifiers. From minstrelsy to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the 1893 World’s Fair, Twain’s text both references and reenacts popular and nostalgic 19th century performances of race and gender while showcasing how these same tropes and stereotypes are being reconfigured at the end of the century, foreshadowing the sleight of hand that presented Jim Crow and the American eugenics movement under the moniker of progress.