The Wagers of Whiteness, the Wagers of Blackness Gambling and Race in Pudd'Nhead Wilson
2004 Interdisciplinary Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop Paper
44 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2004
"The Wagers of Whiteness, The Wagers of Blackness" analyzes the late nineteenth-century erosion of African Americans' newly acquired citizenship rights by turning to the relationship between gambling, property, and slavery in Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). Tom Driscoll's ever-present gambling debts turn him into a thief, and his thefts not only make him unfit to inherit the Driscoll fortune, but also ultimately unmask him as, in Twain's words, "a negro and a slave." Tom's thefts come to constitute blackness as the theft of whiteness, and the novel thus renders racial difference visible through property relationships. This connection prompts a reinterpretation of Plessy v. Ferguson specifically as a property claim: Homer Plessy argued that segregation deprived him of the property of his reputation of being a white man. Juxtaposing Plessy's denied property claim to the Supreme Court's commitment at the close of the nineteenth century to the protection of property rights, this paper shows how race remained articulated in and through a language of property even as biological discourses about racial difference came to the fore.
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