May 27, 2022

#08-212: The Prince and the Pauper

"Let him in!"

Note: Less well-known than Twain's other works--but still popular--this simple "switching places" story becomes a vehicle for Twain to examine ideas of social justice.

Get Ready: Have you ever met someone who looks almost exactly like you? Do you think such a person is out there?

Everyone knows Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But do you know Tom Canty? He is the protagonist of another of Mark Twain's novels, The Prince and the Pauper.

Tom is a poor boy who lives in London in 1547, the year Henry the Eighth died and his son Edward became king. Loitering near the palace gates one day, Tom meets Edward (before his father's death, when he is still a prince) and they notice how much they resemble each other.

Edward invites Tom into his quarters and they both enjoy learning about each other's very different lives. They are surprised to learn they were even born on the same day!

For fun, they decide to exchange clothes and switch places "temporarily." When Edward leaves his quarters in Tom's clothes, though, the guards see him and kick him out of the palace. He finds his way to Tom's house, where he must deal with Tom's alcoholic father. He escapes the abusive man, and meets a soldier who, although he doesn't believe Edward's claim to be the Prince, decides to protect him. They soon hear that Henry has died and Edward is now to be King.

Tom, meanwhile, finds it difficult to behave appropriately at court. The people around him think he must be ill, but when he shows good common sense in judging cases, they decide he is all right after all.

Edward has become increasingly aware of the unfair treatment of the poor in his kingdom. (Mark Twain's works are often focused on social justice.) He is especially concerned with how people are treated by the courts. When a gang of thieves hears Edward say that as king he will ensure that people are treated better, they think he is insane and hold a mock coronation, to great comic effect.

After spending some time in prison himself, Edward returns to the palace to stop Tom from being made king. The nobles will not believe that Edward is really the prince, until he produces an object he had hidden before he left the palace: the Great Seal of England, which the king uses to certify documents.

In the end, Edward is crowned king, and Tom becomes the "King's Ward"; Edward ensures that Tom, his mother, and his sisters are well taken care of, but--in the story as in history--Edward dies at age 15.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abusive
  2. coronation
  3. loitering
  4. pauper
  5. protagonist
  6. quarters
  7. resemble
  8. seal
  9. temporarily
  10. ward

  1. look (almost) the same as
  2. a child taken care of someone other than his parents
  3. the main character of a story
  4. a ceremony for crowning a king or queen
  5. rooms where someone lives
  6. a poor person
  7. for a short time
  8. treating someone badly, especially physically
  9. hanging around
  10. a stamp used on hot wax

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 27, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. d; 3. i; 4. f; 5. c; 6. e; 7. a; 8. j; 9. g; 10. b