In the novel, The Prince and the Pauper, the author, Mark Twain seems preoccupied with the issue of social inequality. The Prince and the Pauper is a story of two boys who look alike, although one is a prince and the other is a peasant. Through an accident, they switch lives for a short period of time. Through the experiences of each boy, we can see the unfairness of the social classes. From a Marxist perspective, it is clear that this story takes on the idea that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels stated in The German Ideology. They wrote, “their [the peoples’] personality is conditioned and determined by quite definite class relationships.” Each boy is who he is because of the station in life he was born into. In the novel, the first chapter discusses the birth of each boy. Tom Canty was born to a peasant family and was not wanted. On the other hand, Edward Tudor was the long awaited Prince of Wales and his birth was celebrated throughout the land. Tom’s family is poor and cannot afford to give him what he needs, while the Prince is lavished in silks and rich food. This disturbing disparity between the two births confirms Marx and Engels’ idea that the rest of a person’s life is determined by the class they are born into.
When Edward and Tom switch lives, Edward receives a real shock. Through his eyes, we see the troubling differences between members of the aristocracy and the lower class. Through Edward’s astonishment we can see that the ruling class gave no thought to how terrible the lives of the English peasants were. The upper class took for granted that they would get whatever they wanted because of their social position. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels state that, “personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class.” This theory is portrayed in the plot when the soldiers of the palace threw Tom away from the palace gates because he was dressed in rags. Tom’s freedom to travel about and simply observe was restricted because he was a pauper. The lower class were viewed as inferior and were limited in their freedom even though their work significantly contributed to society.
Throughout Edward’s travels he comes to realize the inequality of the lives of those who were born into a lower class. When Edward tries to assert that he is indeed the Prince of Wales, everyone mocks him. This shows how there were extremely rigid boundaries between the classes. It was not thought as possible for a peasant to climb that high on the social ladder. Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels wrote that individuals “lived within the conditions of existence of their class.” The mindset of each class in the English society was such that they could not even imagine the potential for an individual to rise in status.
At the end of the story the Prince becomes aware of the inequalities in the English system and rules more compassionately when he becomes King. This demonstrates that when individuals are made aware, they realize of the unfairness of the way society is set up.