Those Two Extraordinary Twins: Twain’s Lesser Known Commentary on Race & Segregation

We know Twain took a strong stance against slavery, and while much of his writing is concerned with realism and the culture of the south–often resulting in the use of offensive language (for which his works have been ridiculed by some) his goal was to convey an anti-slavery stance to his audience through a satirical voice. This is nothing new. Most of us have read Huckleberry Finn. 

But most of us have not read Those Two Extraordinary Twins (available in a Norton Edition). This more obscure work addresses the typical Twain issues through the conflicts and resolutions of the two conjoined twins, Angelo and Luigi Cappello.

Throughout the novel, the reader and townspeople observe how this unnatural anomaly of the human form coexists and serves as a metaphor for the coexistence and equality of African Americans and whites. Much like conjoined twins, the idea of racial equality seemed unnatural for people of the era, even if it’s actually entirely feasible (though not achieved, even today) and–you know–just the way things should be. Twain exposes that the only reason racial tensions exist is because of the ignorance and closed-mindedness of the general populace, and that this mindset will only lead to problems, death and violence for all races.

When the twins arrive at Dawson’s Landing, the town in which the story is set, Patsy Cooper (one of them there good ol’ townsfolk) gets “up a prejudice about them at first.” Twain immediately addresses the fact that our first human instinct is to shun, avoid, or discriminate people, or “freaks,” different than we are. Patsy Cooper also goes on to judge Luigi, the darker-skinned of the two twins, more harshly than she does Angelo—stating that “the one on the left—I mean the one on its left—hasn’t near as good a face in my opinion…the dark skinned one…up to all kinds of mischief and disobedience when he was a boy, I’ll be bound.” Pretty blatant in what he’s trying to get at, our friend Mr. Twain. Angelo (the “white” twin), however, is described as “good as gold…such kind blue eyes, and curly copper hair and fresh complexion.”

Twain addresses this racial difference outright when the twins arrive; the darker-skinned Luigi being perceived negatively while Angelo’s light skin is seen as comely and trustworthy. Twain then moves on to enforce Patsy’s mentality that different things must be separated when she reacts to the twins’ singing. She asserts that “a duet that is made up of two different tunes is a mistake.” The twins continue to challenge this notion and fascinate their admirers when they explain how they manage to share one body as two individuals, whose “natures differ a good deal from each other, and [their tastes also].”

The twins feed each other, have devised a communication system for efficiency, and even do things such as ingest medicine for the benefit of their counterpart. The body of the conjoined twins serves as a microcosm of what American society could be—what it should be. Whites simply must acknowledge and act on the fact that if they respect and help non-white Americans (the other half of the metaphorical conjoined twin), then both parties will be much better off.

This is reinforced when Angelo (the more fair skinned twin) entertains the idea of being “segregated” from his brother. He quickly dismisses this idea “as soon as his mind cleared and these diseased imaginings passed away, he shuttered at the repulsive thought, and earnestly prayed that it might visit him no more…How awkward it would seem; how unendurable.” This is Twain being satirical, as is his wont. The satire lies in that this is how many people felt about the idea of no segregation, but here Angelo points out how ludicrous it would be to try to be separated from his brother, much like it would be ludicrous to try to separate human beings based on race.

Angelo and Luigi are also able to tolerate sharing a body because “each of [them] has utter and indisputable control of [the] body a week at a time, turn and turn about” (147). They thrive on a system where they give and take, where there is not one all powerful twin who controls the body. Their personalities do conflict, but never to the point of dysfunction.

Twain also takes a jab at the “sciences,” like phrenology, that people used to enforce the belief that black people based on the shape of their skulls. Luigi claims to be “six months older than [Angelo],” that he was “born with a full crop of hair.” Both of these claims are physical impossibilities and science fiction, but Luigi is adamant that it is the truth, even though anybody with a shred of common sense would know to dismiss this claim, much like how phrenology, at least in the present day, is accepted as nothing more than nonsensical pseudoscience.

Luigi goes on to make the controversial statement that “we [Luigi and Angelo] are no more twins than you are.” This is Twain’s most direct address of the metaphor: that the twins are a representation of two different entities existing as one, much like race should be. Luigi may not explicitly mean that he and Luigi are no more twins than African Americans and whites, but within the underlying context of Twain’s voice, stance, etc. it is undeniable that he is making that point.

The only issues with Angelo and Luigi are created by the town. For example, Luigi is appointed to the board of aldermen, but Angelo is not allowed to sit with him. The solution reached by the town is to have Luigi hanged, which is interesting, to end with the hanging of the darker twin even though he was elected to a government position. It is also interesting because, like the killing of “half a dog” in Puddn’head Wilson, the killing of one conjoined twin inevitably results in the death of the other.

So even as they say “Count Angelo is innocent; we mustn’t hang him,” and they resolve to only hang Luigi, the act results in Angelo’s death. This finalizes Twain’s allegorical message that segregation of races will only lead to problems, as trying to treat Luigi and Angelo as separate entities leads to the execution of both of them, even the innocent Angelo.

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