With each new encounter, Twain proves himself to me to be both brilliant and complicated. The Prince and the Pauper is a tale of cautious optimism; unlike later works (Huck Finn, The Mysterious Stranger), in The Prince and the Pauper, Twain seems to still believe in humanity and its potential for goodness – for greatness. Though this novel is set in England, Twain is particularly concerned with the state of affairs in America, during the time of the Civil War – The Prince and Pauper’s search for identity – shouting to be heard, to be recognized and believed – mirrors what was happening in America, both in terms of politics and social justice. Writers were comic critics, and only the wealthy businessmen, politicians, and landowners had any real say. Still, in this novel, Twain seems to see a glimmer of hope. That he chose Edward VI, whose reign was short-lived (and whose demise was prophesied in retrospect) seems to imply that Twain believed America was at the cusp of a possible change for the better – the beacon on the hill. A final Eden, but that, in all likelihood, the greatness could not be sustained, and only memories would last. Brilliant, hilariously Twain-esque, and truly heart-breaking to one such as myself, who is more familiar with Twain’s later, more cynical works.
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