Throughout the novel, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, the author conveys the idea that the clothes make the man as well as addressing problems such as social inequality and religious intolerance. The novel tells the story of an impoverished boy, Tom Canty, who dreamt of living life as a member of the Royal Family. In the midst of his escapades, he meets a prince named Edward Tudor. The two quickly become aware of their uncanny resemblance to each other and make the daring decision to change clothes. Because of their new wardrobes, the people around them treat them completely differently, thus proving that society tends to assume the clothes make the man and physical appearance is used to judge one's character rather than their personality. Each boy experiences the hardships of living the other's life. Both are mistreated because of their appearances, economic, and social classes. The prince also notices some religious intolerance and vows to right this wrong when he regains his power.
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The transformation into each other's identity all begins when Tom was wandering around the palace gates. "Hoping to see Edward, he sneaks into the palace compound. A guard beats him and the young prince, having seen this, takes pity on Tom and invites him to come into the palace and play with him" (Morris). The guard had beaten Tom solely based on his appearance without respecting him as a human being. Tom did go into the palace with the prince, and the idea of changing clothing soon followed. Then the two boys went into Prince Edward's room and " stood side by side before a great mirror, and lo, a miracle: there did not seem to have been any change made! They stared at each other, then at the glass, then at each other again. At last the puzzled princeling said, 'What does thou make of this?'" (Twain 18). After the boys change clothes, they get separated in the palace. The Prince is mistaken for a beggar and cast out of his own palace onto the streets of London. He is belittled, mocked, and even abused by his own soldier when he tries to explain that he is indeed the Prince ("Overview"). Even though he truly is Prince, no one believes him because of his clothes and Edward experiences the brutality of life outside of his lavish domain. Meanwhile in the palace, Tom has an unfortunately similar problem. In his case, however, no one believes he is poor because he appears to be the prince. Instead of trusting him, the palace staff, including his father King Henry VIII, all think that Tom is really the Prince gone mad ("Review"). Everyone around the two boys are judging who they are based on their clothes. Eventually Prince Edward meets Miles Hendon, "a disinherited baronet" ("Overview"). Even though the two become great friends throughout the novel, Miles never really believes that Edward is a prince until he regains power as King. Again, all based on his appearance. Twain makes this a major aspect of the book to prove to readers that people have this idea that external trumps internal. The repetition and frequent use of this influence throughout the book make it a satire in some ways ("Prince"). Twain pokes a finger at the reader and tries to make them realize that someone may not be who they are thought to be just because they look a certain way. People of all ages from all over the world can learn a lesson in judging others by reading this novel.
Twain himself faced many struggles throughout his life. One struggle in specific was that he belonged to very different economic classes during his multiple careers. Through the ups and downs of unsuccessful and lucrative businesses, he gained a perception of the rift that can occur between economic and even social classes ("Twain"). Using these experiences, Twain infuses his novel with examples that prove that this indeed is a problem. Through the use of Tom and Edward's characters, Twain tells a tale that mirrors his own. Tom is forced to struggle to play the role of Prince since no one is taking his claim to not be Edward seriously. Meanwhile, Edward tries to assert his title as Prince out in London and is laughed at and treated poorly for claiming to be royalty. Social and economic inequalities are a popular topic of the novel ("Prince"). They way the boys are treated depends greatly on their standings in society. When Tom first meets Edward, he explains his life at home. He describes the beatings and punishments he has to endure every single day. The Prince responds with "What! Beatings?" (Twain 14). The Prince is not aware of life outside the palace. He is so shocked by this part of Tom's life because as Prince, he never had to suffer from anything like beatings. He soon finds out during his struggles as a pauper that these incidents completely normal, yet immoral, in the life of a low class citizen. Tom on the other hand has to adjust in quite a different way. He is forced to prove that he has not lost his mind by learning all the royal manners that he is supposed to know ("Overview"). In both cases the boys are expected to act in very different ways than they are accustomed to because of the harsh differences between higher and lower class which demonstrate the extreme segregation between classes in sixteenth century England. Twain "[criticizes] the inequalities in the society in which Edward and Tom live [while depicting] the enormous disparities between the prince's way of life and that of the pauper" ("Prince"). The author stresses this powerful message to readers by providing numerous examples of inequality and injustice among the citizens in London. It is clear that Twain believes that social inequality is a major issue in society.
The last major theme of The Prince and the Pauper is religious intolerance throughout London in the time the story took place.
Religious conflict leads to injustices inflicted on various groups as well. A great deal of religious intolerance pervaded England during Henry VIII's rule, stemming largely from the king's break with the Roman Catholic Church and the resultant conflicts between Catholics and Protestant groups. Twain portrays some of this tension in his novel, as when Edward is imprisoned with Miles Hendon. Hendon and Edward watch two women, women who have demonstrated their kind and gentle natures in dealing with Edward in prison, being burned at the stake for their religious beliefs, which conflicted with those of the Church of England. ("Prince")
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Twain interprets more injustice in London by making the issue of religious conflict known. Edward and Miles witness the two very caring women burned at the stake just because of their religious preferences. Religious intolerance is sadly still an issue in today's world. Another example of the religious conflict taking place in the country is presented with the appearance of the odd character Hermit. The Hermit claims to be an archangel and has a burning ambition to be appointed Pope. He blames King Henry for not being appointed, because he thinks the king has made this impossible by using his ties with the Catholic Church ("Prince"). As a result, The Hermit has become an "unfriended monk" (qtd. in "Prince"). While the Hermit is depicted as insane, his feelings of being rejected have been felt throughout the whole Catholic population ("Prince"). The author conveys this issue in yet another way by displaying Edward's own prejudices against the Roman Catholic Church. He comments about his half-sister Mary and how he does not like her "dour and disapproving attitude and of her constant talk of sin" ("Prince"). This suggests that even as the King's son, Edward may not be entirely religious, yet still dislikes the Roman Catholic Church due to the strong influences around him that denounce the Pope. Seeing that his own father has such a close relationship with the church, this would indeed cause some conflict. Much like the trouble that is social inequality, religious intolerance was a driving force that split the different classes of London in the time period of the novel.
The Prince and the Pauper was written by Mark Twain to help everyone who reads it become aware of the problems all throughout society as a whole. Twain tries to reach out and say that it is wrong to judge a book by its cover by assuming that the clothes someone wears makes them who they are. He also addresses the issues of social and economic separation and inequality, such as how the classes in this time are based on appearance and title, not merit and hard-working character. He believes that there should not be a big gap between classes just because of how much money people have, it is just unjust. Finally, he incorporates the problem of religious intolerance. Much like the separation of social classes, this creates iniquity for all involved, as shown by the example of the two women in the novel who had nothing wrong with them and were even described as caring, but in the end perished just for their beliefs. The novel was written for the sole purpose of teaching others to care for one another, accept them for who they are, and to not judge others too quickly.
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