The Prince and the Pauper Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Prince and the Pauper

Prince Edward VII and the pauper Tom Canty realize the advantages and disadvantages of their positions when they switch places for several weeks prior to Edward's coronation. Tom Canty lives with his family in a hovel in a poor section of London with his family, spending his days begging on the streets and receiving beatings from his father when he does not receive enough money. When he finds a spare moment away from disapproving eyes, he imagines himself as king, play-acting as if he were really a prince or king in court.
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One day, he walks into the courtyard of the palace. Prince Edward VII, who is close to Tom in age and good-hearted, is passing. When the guards try to violently kick Tom out, the prince stops them and brings Tom indoors with him. Just as Tom has always dreamed of what it would be like to be a prince, free from worry about where his next meal would come from, the prince has always dreamed what it would be like as a peasant, free from the trappings and formalities of royal life. They observe that they look quite similar and exchange clothes. A servant comes in while their clothes are switched, mistakes one for the other, and throws Prince Edward out the gate.

The story then switches back and forth from one boy's adventure to the other. Prince Edward, once outside, upon realizing no one believes he is prince, wanders for some time until he is found by Tom's mother and father, who think he is Tom. Tom's father punishes him, put Tom's mother and sisters pity him and are kind to him, thinking him mad when they hear his story. Tom's mother's intuition tells her maybe he is not really her son, but she convinces herself this could not be the case even in the face of the boys' irrefutably different habits.

In the days that follow, Prince Edward seeks to return to the castle and regain his rightful position, but finds out that Tom's family aren't the only ones not to believe him. After some travels with interference and mockery from the band of robbers led by Tom's father, the prince meets Miles Hendon, a noble returning from an extended period abroad. Miles does not believe the prince's story but takes a liking to him, humors him, and takes care of him. His own story mirrors that of the prince in that he is a nobleman, yet his brother has usurped his position of power. The prince witnesses the injustices to both Miles and the poor peasants on Miles' property upon Miles' return, and is determined to right things when he regains his rightful position.

Tom, meanwhile, has also found people do not believe him either. Only one noble believes his story, but cannot do much without seeming to defy the king. This would only bring trouble to himself and would not allow him to help Tom or find the real prince. Nobles, servants, and family tell Tom he is merely sick, that he has temporary amnesia, and that he must rest. Tom enjoys the food, observes and learns readily about how the court functions, and gradually overcomes his preliminary awkwardness. He has never eaten with a knife and fork, for example, and begins to see how affectionate and kind King Henry VIII could be to his children (definitely not the public image he has cultivated!). His peasant life gradually becomes more distant, though he still has bouts of guilt about his mother and sister. Tom also finds his whipping boy to be quite helpful as he tries to orient himself to court life, and has an interesting time bringing true judgement based on reason in the English court, which has some rather silly laws.

When Henry VIII dies, it comes time to crown a new king. Prince Edward discovers and is determined to reach London in time to stop the ceremony. He doesn't realize Tom won't be believed any more than he is, and thinks him a traitor. Tom genuinely can't do much about the situation, though, even if he still wanted to. On the way to be crowned, however, he sees his mother and his guilt returns. Edward runs up just as Tom is about to be crowned, and Tom commands the ceremony to a halt, insisting Edward is the true crown prince. They are able to verify when Tom asks Edward where he put the royal seal. The court had been searching the palace for it, and the prince had been the last with it while they had been together exchanging outfits. Tom had no idea what the royal seal was and hadn't been able to tell where it was even though he had seen it (and even used it to crack nuts to eat). But with reminders and hints from Tom (once he realizes what the royal seal is), Edward can tell them exactly its location and prove his identity.

Edward is crowned king. He rights the wrongs he saw at Miles' place, and Miles becomes a royal servant with special rights (he may sit in the presence of the king). He realizes also that Tom was not really trying to hurt him or take what was his, and makes Tom his royal ward. Tom's family is able to live reasonably without begging.
Best part of story, including ending: Mark Twain creates a story that is interesting for all ages, but simultaneously incorporates important themes about social rank, appearances, and how people see each other.

Best scene in story: At the end, Tom Canty insists that Edward is the true prince, and they are able to right the situation by allowing Edward to provide necessary evidence. Through this scene, the reader also sees that the court trusts appearances more than the word of the two boys, who are in agreement, and who had both said things previously that agreed with their current statements. Sometimes it's better to trust a person to know himself :).

Opinion about the main character: In Mark Twain's rendition, both Tom Canty and Prince Edward have a sense of justice and want things to be right for themselves and for others. Being somewhat younger than their peers, they are not yet discouraged or stuck in the rut into which society tries to drive them.

The review of this Book prepared by Carol Lambert a Level 5 American Goldfinch scholar

In the Prince and the Pauper Twain took his very sharp pen and skewered the very idea of nobility by premising the relationship of a Prince with his courtiers on their opinion of who he was, rather than the reality of who he was. While the story is another one that is good for children simply as an exciting adventure story, his main focus, and the "teaching" of the book is on society and the false trappings of royalty or upper-class attitudes.
The review of this Book prepared by Kelly Whiting

Chapter Analysis of The Prince and the Pauper

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   upbeat Time/era of story    -   1600-1899 Life of a profession:    -   king/queen/royalty Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Job/Profession/Status story    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   unemployed    -   Prince/Nobleman/King Age:    -   a kid    -   a teen


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   1 () Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK City?    -   Yes Misc setting    -   fancy mansion    -   prison

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Mark Twain Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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