50 pages 1 hour read

Mark Twain

The Prince and the Pauper

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1881

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Symbols & Motifs


Clothing is an important symbol in The Prince and the Pauper as an identifier of social class. The stark difference between Tom’s rags and Edward’s “lovely silks and satins, shining with jewels” (12) highlights the gulf between the poor and the aristocracy in Tudor England. The divide is further stressed on the occasions when Tom attends royal events. Chronicler Raphael Holinshed, the narrator’s stand-in, frequently describes the garments of royal attendees, stressing their opulence and elaborateness. Clothing of such high caliber is a novelty to Tom, who is only “familiar with rags and dirt and misery” (64) before entering the palace.

Because clothes can be removed and swapped, they also represent the inadequacy of making judgments about someone’s social class based on appearance alone. Almost all who come across Tom and Edward treat them entirely based on their outward appearances despite them acting totally out of character in their roles. Societal assumptions trump most characters’ observational skills, meaning that they treat people well or poorly based on superficial factors. The fact that the protagonists look identical symbolizes the essential equality of all people, a factor obscured by the trappings of class and the expectations of others.