Abstract

Twain's legal satire in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson centers on specific conflicts of legal definition and jurisdiction between the states of Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, New York, and Virginia—as well as their conflict with national ideals and religious or social codes. Understanding these specific conflicts illuminates the stakes for various characters in both novels. Specific laws on racial definition, suffrage requirements, emancipation, creditors' rights, and legal control over minors, married women, and chattel property (including the enslaved) restrict Roxy, her son, Jim, Huck, Huck's pap, and the Ohio professor, but conflicts of jurisdiction can offer entrapment or increased opportunity. Perhaps even more important, so long as the legal application of democratic ideals is based firmly in conflicting territorial boundaries, economic self-interest, and the denial of the personhood of significant portions of the population, the national struggle about what it means “to do right” will continue.

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