I chose the song “New Again” by Taking Back Sunday as a kind of exaggerated anthem for Tom and Chambers as they get switched without knowing it.
I remember reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain in high school and not enjoying it all that much, so I was both hesitant and excited to read something different by him. I have to say, in only the first eight chapters, I already liked this novel a lot more.
Twain starts the novel by giving a very detailed description of the town. One of the passages he wrote states,
“Dawson’s Landing was a slaveholding town, with a rich, slave-worked grain and pork country back of it. The town was sleepy and comfortable and contented. It was fifty years old, and was growing slowly – very slowly, in fact, but still it was growing,” (57).
The town is described as sounding quiet and peaceful with not a lot of movement in or out. It has a book feel to it in that it reads as almost unrealistic and perfect, besides the fact that there are slaves, of course. With these descriptions, Twain’s town falls into the category of the Plantation Myth. The town is romanticized in its sleepy, comfortable nature, and there are nostalgic elements woven in as well. I find it most interesting that people never leave the town, and the only visitors are the boats coming through. It’s own of those small-town-everybody-know-each-other kind of places that only ever feels natural in a novel. I immediately felt the tones of abandonment with “squeaking signs [creaking] in the wind.” And the fact that this is a main street only emphasizes the loneliness of the town. All of these aspects feed into the Plantation Myth.
That myth is also present with the presentation of the characters. Plantation Myths are known for depicting slaves as childlike, innocent, and comical. Early on, Driscoll gets angry because one of his slaves steals his money. He lines them up and treats them like children, threatening to sell them down the river if they don’t fess up. And later, in describing Tom and Chambers, though they are still young, the word choices Twain uses make them seem even more childlike.
“Tom got all the petting, Chambers got none. Tom got all the delicacies, Chambers got mush and milk, and clabber without sugar. In consequence Tom was a sickly child and Chambers wasn’t. Tom was ‘fractious’, as Roxy called it, and overbearing; Chambers was meek and docile,” (77).
Mush and milk seem like foods a baby would eat. Because Chambers doesn’t get all the “petting” he turns out to be the tougher one of the two because he doesn’t have the same privilege as Tom does even though he’s actually the white one.
The switching of the children was confusing to me at first, especially since Twain uses their new names, but eventually I caught on it it and found it interesting how they both played right into their stereotypes despite the fact that they are both actually white, but one has just enough black in them to count as a slave. That was something that I didn’t know happened, and I found it strange how slaveowners were so adamant about owning slaves yet they couldn’t even tell when one child was a slave and the other wasn’t when Roxy changes them behind everyone’s back. And the fact that Roxy had contemplated killing her child so he wouldn’t have to endure the hardships and oppression of slavery really emphasized the terrible lives a lot of the slaves led. Of course this is a whole other extreme, but it almost reminds me of the Holocaust and how some parents would take poison and feed it to their children as well so that they wouldn’t have to endure the awful treatment that came with being a Jew.