Academic | Essay Contest
According to Washington Irving, "An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most precious gifts of heaven, spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather." In Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, Tom Canty, Edward VI, and Miles Hendon have all been endowed with this invaluable quality, without which they could not possibly have survived. Each of these characters experiences a loss of identity but manages to retain his sense of decency despite the corruption of outside influences. In the face of adversity, these heroes thrive. Although life sends a hailstorm to shower misfortunes upon these hapless souls, each manages to blossom spectacularly; when a good seed takes root, no amount of inclemency can harm it.
At the start of the novel, Tom is born into an impecunious family "of the name of Canty, who did not want him" (11). Although he is burdened with a crook for a father and a beggar for a grandmother, both of whom are abusive alcoholics, Tom receives a relatively solid upbringing, thanks to the affectionate love of his mother and the benevolent instruction of Father Andrew. Father Andrew is "a good old priest" who takes Tom and his sisters, Nan and Bet, under his wing "and [teaches] them right ways secretly" (13). He also tutors Tom in the studies of Latin, reading, and writing, allowing Tom to expand his mind and evaluate the world around him more effectively. Tom's mother, moreover, teaches him the meaning of love and self-sacrifice; "...in the night, his starving mother would slip to him stealthily with any miserable scrap or crust she had been able to save for him by going hungry herself..." (13). Tom develops his values and essential decency as a result of the examples set by these venerable role models of his youth.
In addition to developing a fundamental goodness due to his upbringing, Tom acquires admirable traits through a variety of life experiences. Having grown up surrounded by the misfortunes of the destitute population of England, Tom has learned empathy. When he is later thrust into the prominent position of king, this empathy matures into the concept of mercy. When he learns of the unreasonably harsh punishments put into practice under "his" law, "the spirit of compassion took control of him [and] ...he could think of nothing but the scaffold and the grisly fate hanging over the heads of the condemned" (95). He immediately amends these offensive penalties and teaches both the nobility and the common folk what it is to forgive and be forgiven. Tom's morals are developed upon such a firm foundation that none of the corrupt influences of power, position, and prominence can shake them.
Another character in possession of an essentially good nature is Prince Edward VI. Edward is shown to have an innate sense of integrity as soon as he is introduced to Tom. During an attempt to catch a glimpse of the royal prince, Tom is shoved into the street by a soldier of the castle. The prince, appalled by this maltreatment, "sprang to the gate with his face flushed, and his eyes flashing with indignation..." (18). Like Tom, the prince goes on to learn compassion through experiences with the poor and oppressed people of his country. After dealing with the unjustly accused and imprisoned, "the king [became] furious...and wanted Hendon to break jail and fly with him to Westminster, so that he could mount his throne and hold out his scepter in mercy over these unfortunate people and save their lives" (171). A good heart and insightful disposition provide the prince with a deep sense of right and wrong, and help him to become a merciful ruler.
A third example of an ethical man in The Prince and the Pauper is Miles Hendon. While much of Hendon's goodness may be inherent, Hendon is significantly influenced by God's presence in his life. When Hendon first encounters the little prince, his heart is filled with sympathy and love for his fellow creature, and he takes the lad into his care. Soon after becoming acquainted with the prince, Hendon believes him to be mad because the meagerly clad child claims to be king. When the self-proclaimed king orders Hendon to guard the door while he slumbers in Hendon's bed, however, Hendon willingly acquiesces, thinking, "I have lodged worse for seven years; 'twould be but ill gratitude to Him above to find fault with this" (77). Even the king notices how the spirit of the Lord moves in Hendon, as he points out that "kings cannot ennoble [Hendon]...for One who is higher than the kings hath done that [already]..." (175).
Despite being faced with hardships (Tom is forced to assume a position about which he knows nothing, the prince is denied the crown, and Hendon is disowned), Tom, Edward, and Hendon retain their virtuous natures and parry corruptive influence. Whether it is due to intrinsic nature, upbringing, experience, or divine intervention, humaneness is a vital characteristic in all three individuals. Among the three of them, they suffer imprisonment, kidnapping, flogging, and abandonment, and are influenced by power, self-interest, and necessity; however, they refuse to succumb to dishonesty and vice, preferring to lead honorable lives. Life may have bombarded these heroes with innumerable cloudbursts of trials and tribulations, but the seeds stayed deeply embedded in the soil; thus, when the sun finally shone upon them, they blossomed and flourished, displaying the fruits of their labors for all to see.